A South African court Monday began hearing an appeal launched by former President Jacob Zuma on his lengthy prison sentence in the wake of violent protests against his imprisonment.
According to Reuters, Zuma’s lawyers asked the court to release the 79-year-old Zuma partly on the grounds that the Constitutional Court improperly imposed the sentence in his absence.
Zuma reported to a prison facility in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal last week to begin serving a 15-month sentence on contempt of court charges after he failed to testify before a special inquiry looking into wide-ranging allegations of official corruption during his nine years in office, which ended in 2018.
His lawyers are also arguing that he will be at risk of catching COVID-19 while imprisoned.
Zuma has denied the allegation and refused to participate in the inquiry that began during his final weeks in office.
Protests spread from KwaZulu-Natal into the country’s main economic hub of Johannesburg Sunday, with several shops looted and a section of the major M2 highway closed as some protests turned violent. Reuters says television footage showed a mall ablaze in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.
Police say 62 people have been arrested in connection with riots since Zuma was imprisoned.
The body of a 40-year-old man has been recovered from one of the shops that was set on fire over the weekend, according to police.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm Sunday, urging protesters to demonstrate peacefully.
“People have been intimidated and threatened, and some have even been hurt,” Ramaphosa said.
Zuma, a prominent anti-apartheid fighter, remains popular despite the allegations of corruption.
Some information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.