News and Information

Defiant 13 delay start of treason trial
August 10, 2004

ACCURSED by delays it has been for five years; and so it was once again for the Caprivi high treason case in the High Court at Grootfontein yesterday.

This time, an act of defiance by the 13 high treason accused, who nine months ago raised and initially succeeded in challenging the High Court's jurisdiction over them, pushed back the expected start of the trial by another two weeks, to August 23.

The 13 achieved this by resorting to a new, obstructionist strategy to continue pursuing their claims that the High Court should not be allowed to try them because they were illegally brought to Namibia from Botswana or Zambia to be arrested and charged.

Yesterday, they refused to leave the Grootfontein Prison and attend the proceedings that took place before Judge Elton Hoff in Grootfontein's Omulunga town hall.

In a letter that they addressed to one of the members of the defence team, Patrick Kauta, on Sunday, they said that they had been prompted to remain absent from their trial because of the fate that befell their jurisdiction challenge in the Supreme Court three weeks ago.

There, a five-Judge bench of Namibia's highest court ruled in a 3-2 decision that Judge Hoff should not have upheld the 13's jurisdiction challenge and should not have dismissed them from the high treason case on February 23.

The letter from the 13 was handed to the court as en exhibit yesterday, as defence team member Jonathan Samukange tried to explain to the court why the 13 were not present in the dock.

The 13 had written:"We the 13 Caprivians whose (jurisdiction) verdict was handed down by the Supreme Court of Namibia on the 21st July 2004, would like to emphatically state and inform you that:

"1. We are highly dissatisfied and disgrantled (sic) with the Supreme Court judgement as stated above.

"2. As a result of point one above, we shall not appear in the Grootfontein High Court on the 09th August 2004 and beyond.

"3. In our quest for proper justice and fair trial, we want to appeal and pursue our jurisdiction/abduction case outside the borders of Namibia.

"4. We therefore instruct you to accordingly and appropriately take the necessary steps to inform the honourable presiding Judge same and instant."

Having informed the Judge of this latest development, Samukange asked for a postponement to yesterday afternoon so that the defence lawyers could once more talk to the 13 on their plan to shun their own trial.

When they returned to court, their position remained the same.

Samukange told Judge Hoff that they had had serious discussions with the 13, who had asked to be given some time to further consider their position.

As a result, he asked for a two-week postponement to August 23, to further consult with the 13, for the defence team to realign, and then to proceed with the trial in earnest, he said.

Deputy Prosecutor General Herman January told the Judge that while the State did not oppose the defence application for a further remand, as it understood the predicament that they faced with their clients' refusal to go to court, it also had to be noted that the prosecution had already organised for witnesses to be present to testify yesterday.

From the dock, where the 13's 107 co-accused were accommodated, there was hardly a murmur of dissent as it dawned that they were to face yet another delay before the start of their trial.

All of the 107 have already pleaded not guilty to all 278 charges they are arraigned on.

The 13 have not yet pleaded.

Instead they have questioned the court's capacity to try them in the light of the circumstances in which they had been brought before it when the trial was initially supposed to start on October 27 last year.

That jurisdiction challenge and the eventual Supreme Court appeal on it have since pushed back the start of the trial by nine months.

After being informed of the letter from the 13, Judge Hoff remarked that it was important that an accused person be present at his trial - but that the Criminal Procedure Act also allowed a trial to proceed in the absence of an accused under certain circumstances.

He would make a ruling on such an issue only once the case returned to court in a fortnight, if it was still necessary then, he said as he remanded the 107 suspects who were present, as well as the absent 13, in custody until then.


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