News and Information

Undefended treason suspects refuse to challenge witness
November 17, 2005


A QUARTER of the 120 men in the dock in the main Caprivi high treason trial in the High Court in Windhoek yesterday refused to exercise their right to cross-question the tenth prosecution witness to have testified in the trial.

The 31 treason suspects who are no longer represented by defence lawyers would not be cross-examining the tenth witness, a spokesperson for the group, Aggrey Makendano, told Judge Elton Hoff after the last of the nine defence lawyers had wrapped up his cross-questioning of the witness yesterday.

Makendano was part of a group of 15 of accused who lost their legal representation at the beginning of February.

The lawyers who had been representing informed the court at that stage that they had no choice but to stop representing the 15 because the group was insisting that the lawyers should raise a challenge to the court's jurisdiction that the lawyers themselves could not agree with.

That challenge, it has since emerged, would be based on an argument that the Caprivi Region is actually not - and has never been - legally a part of Namibia, with the result that no Namibian court could have jurisdiction to try people for crimes committed in the region.

The ranks of the unrepresented accused doubled in May, when another 15 suspects joined the first group in demanding that the court's power to try them should be challenged.

Another two of the 120 men followed the same route when the trial resumed after a seven-month break at the beginning of this month.

One of the unrepresented accused, John Tibiso Masake, had second thoughts last week, and indicated to the court that he had chosen to be represented again by defence lawyer Jonathan Samukange.

Since losing their representation at the beginning of February, the unrepresented men have consistently refused to question any of the prosecution witnesses, although their testimony has often been severely incriminating.

The tenth witness, who has pointed out 31 of the accused as people that he claimed were involved in a secessionist movement in the Caprivi Region, delivered similarly incriminating testimony against some of the unrepresented accused - primarily against two of their leading members, John Samboma and Thaddeus Ndala.

Makendano referred to none of that yesterday.

Instead, he restated a stance that had already been communicated to the Judge when the trial was still being heard in the High Court at Grootfontein.

Their lawyers have abandoned the men who are now unrepresented, he charged.

Since that happened, they have indicated to the court that they did not consider themselves to be part of the trial, and they still believe that they are sitting in court against their will, Makendano said.

When the trial resumed on November 1, the same issue of the unrepresented group's wish to dispute the court's jurisdiction over them resurfaced.

Deputy Prosecutor General Danie Small responded at the time that such an argument would, according to him, be tantamount to tendering a guilty plea on a charge of high treason, which in the first place is concerned primarily with someone's allegiance to a state.

That warning does not seem to have had any effect, it appeared from Makendano's address to the court yesterday.

The unrepresented group have mobilised their resources and are now getting ready to bring their jurisdiction challenge to court, he said.

"We want the world to see the truth now, and the world to hear the truth now," he remarked.

They will be doing this by referring to the history of the Caprivi Region since 1400, and by bringing the Lusaka agreement - an agreement that they claim was reached between Swapo leader Sam Nujoma and alleged separatist leader Mishake Muyongo in Lusaka in 1964, and in terms of which it was agreed that Caprivi would become an independent country once Namibia's independence had been won - to life in the court, Makendano said.

"I believe that the State is using this court as a shield.

The Government knows this case is of a political nature.

We can be here for 20 years, 30 years, listening to witnesses testify, but we are not going to reach a solution until it is referred back to the politicians for a political solution," Makendano told Judge Hoff.

The group was demanding to be given a chance to have a political dialogue with Government now, he concluded, telling the court that he was talking on behalf of the undefended accused, the "Caprivi Political Detainees".

The tenth witness is set to continue testifying today, with Deputy Prosecutor General Taswald July re-examining him.


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