*Knees Bowed, Tears Of Joy Flowed In Court Room Immediately After The Acquittal
Pastor Esosa broke the chains of prison against all odds and walked on a multitude of scorpions before historically escaping from the den of coiled anacondas to the disbelief of many cowards who had discouraged him from erasing his name which had
been wrongly written on the jaw of a lion.
He was arrested on charges of drug dealing, handcuffed, and thrown into prison. After a long legal battle, on August 1st, 2013 he breathed fresh air following the declaration that he was not guilty in the Oberlandesgericht (Higher Regional Court) in Vienna
by Dr. Marina Stöger-Hildbrand, the presiding judge. He was subsequently acquitted.
To refresh memories, and to inform those that were not aware of this case in 2011, it is essential to briefly chronicle the fundamental issues of this trumped-up charge.
The sad and ugly genesis of the clergyman’s long walk to freedom
Pastor Joshua Esosa is from Edo State, Nigeria. He is the general overseer of Grace Ministries International in Vienna, Austria. On February 2nd, 2011, around 10 pm, as if in an action film, the door of his apartment was smashed by the police in search of drugs that they never saw. His family members were terribly shocked—a trauma his children are still battling today to overcome.
Pastor Esosa was not around when the unwanted visitors woke his family with thunder noise as they broke the door. But according to his wife, after the police had finished searching their apartment, they requested that she call her husband and get him to come. They threatened that they would take her children away to the Jugendamt (youth welfare office) if she refused. She complied.
Not knowing that an ambush had been laid for him in his own dwelling, Pastor Esosa innocently walked into his apartment around midnight. He was shocked to find policemen greeting him with “Drug dealer, drug dealer!” He was immediately handcuffed and arrested.
The sorry state of the broken door
He was taken to Burgenland that night, to a city about 60 kilometers away from Vienna. It was the journey that started his unjust incarceration and his legal battle, which lasted two and half years and wounded his ego and humiliated him.
According to Pastor Esosa, around 10:00 the following morning they interviewed him. “They said that they knew me because they had been monitoring me selling drugs for over a year now and that the people I had sold drugs to were all in prison. I said, ‘God forbid!’ They said that they had recorded my voice. I said, ‘Good, if you have done that.’ So they showed me some pictures on a computer and asked if I knew the people in them. I said no.
“They now brought out the picture of the person they said that they had been monitoring. The background was a winter background because the person was wearing a winter cap that covered his ears. So what they now did was to put on me my own winter cap, and arranged it to look like the picture of the person they were looking for. They took pictures of me and said if anybody in the prison confirmed that they knew me, then that would be all they needed. So they went to the prison and came back and said yes, two people had confirmed that they knew me. I said, ‘What? I am not a drug dealer, I do not deal drugs and I can never do that.’ They said that the judge had asked for me to be sent to prison immediately. That was how I was sent to prison on February 3rd, 2011,” he said.
Now the legal battle for justice begins
Pastor Esosa in suit during the June
2012 protest against his sentence
The first trial of Pastor Esosa took place in June 2011 in Wiener Neustadt in Lower Austria. Evidence was overwhelming that Pastor Esosa was not the culprit the police had been looking for. One of the strongest pieces of evidence presented against him was a powder alleged by the police to be cocaine; it was later discovered to be pounded yam powder. But still Pastor Esosa was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, a verdict that drew condemnation amongst good-spirited Austrians and activists. Pastor Esosa appealed the verdict.
On June 1st, 2012 many Europeans and Africans demonstrated against the conviction in Vienna.
June 6th, 2012 was the slated date of the appeal hearing, but the absence of one of the key witnesses stalled the proceedings, and the case was adjourned to August 1st, 2012.
The expectations of people to get justice in August increased when Pastor Esosa’s lawyer, Dr. Georg Uitz, said that he was “optimistic that the truth will come out that Esosa is not guilty.”
“We have been fighting since he was arrested more than a year ago. In the first trial he was sentenced, but the decision was reviewed by the upper court, and now the whole trial has to be repeated. I cannot predict the future, because only God knows the future, but I very much hope that he will be set free, because this is a very, very honorable judge. He will not let himself to be influenced by the police or by demonstrations. Whatever he believes he will decide. I believe, I hope and I am sure that he has the right feeling for the case …that Esosa is not guilty,” said Uitz.
This is pounded yam powder. One of the evidences the police had
held strongly against pastor Esosa.
But on August 1st, 2012, irrespective of clearly falsified evidence and contradictory statements by witnesses, what Pastor Esosa got from the judge was not total freedom but a reduced sentence, from 15 months to 12 months. For the rest of his life Pastor Esosa would remain an ex-convict for a crime he had never committed. But he was not ready to bear this stigma, and he again appealed against the verdict, despite advice from people, especially fellow Africans, who told him to accept the judgment, arguing that no African had appealed twice without getting an increased sentence. But Pastor Esosa was not ready to settle for anything less than justice, and talks like that were thoughts from little minds. He was even prepared to go up to the European Court if he was denied justice in Austria. As a matter of fact, he went solo to avoid further discouragement and kept his plans only to himself, his close relatives and his God.
After the rain comes sunshine. At last Pastor Esosa was set free
On August 1st, 2013, exactly one year after his sentence was reduced from 15 months to 12 months, was the hearing of his appeal. According to Pastor Esosa, before the court day his lawyer had told him that “only the unveiling of the truth can bring you freedom” but that there were “many human forces sitting over the truth.” Pastor Esosa had already taken his case above human reach. He went down on his knees, praying for those who were sitting on his freedom to be unseated. In the courtroom he was scared when he learnt that his trial had been slated to last for only 25 minutes. He suspected that a decision had already been taken against him. When it was time for Pastor Esosa to speak in court, he lifted his Bible and said, “This is what I have been doing since I came” to Austria.
“I am not dealing with drugs and I can never deal with drugs. This is a case of misidentification. The police have the picture of the real person; they have the voice recording of the real person. And the picture wasn’t of me, yet they forced it on me. The voice recording wasn’t mine, yet they forced it on me, and the accent of the person also showed that it was not me, but still they want me to accept it. This incidence of misplaced identity has brought pains to me, pains to my family, pains to my friends and even pains to the members of the church. And it is only justice that can relieve me from these pains. Injustice to one is injustice to all.”
Delivering her judgment, the presiding judge, Dr. Marina Stöger-Hildbrand said, “The witnesses that were brought against Pastor Esosa contradicted themselves.” She went on that Pastor Esosa’s telephone conversation, which the police brought as evidence, made it seem that he was in both the 10th district and the 18th district at the same time. The judge noted that it was not possible for one person to be at different locations at the same time.
“Pastor Esosa is not omnipresent and cannot be everywhere at the same time,” she said. She warned that Pastor Esosa should not be made to look like God or a super being. With that she declared that Pastor Esosa was “unschuldig (not guilty) and thereby discharged and acquitted.”
Immediately after the declaration, everyone in the courtroom who had come in solidarity fell on their knees at the same time, as if it had been agreed, shedding tears and praising God, to the embarrassment of the judges.
Pastor Esosa thanked God and those who supported him during the trial period, and also prayed for God’s intervention on behalf of others who may have been wrongly accused or imprisoned like him.
When asked whether he intends to seek a redress in view of the damages the allegation and his imprisonment may have done to his image and reputation, he said he had forgiven all who played one role or another against him.
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