24 July 2012

Africa: High Treason Charge Is Constitutional - Judge

Photo: SAPA stringer
White right-wingers descend to cells under a South African courtroom.

Pretoria — The crime of high treason was reconcilable with the Constitution and did not violate any constitutional rights of the accused in the Boeremag treason trial, the trial judge has ruled.

Judge Eben Jordaan on Tuesday rejected argument by the 22 accused that the description of high treason was so wide that it violated several of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

He said the Constitution granted rights and responsibilities to the state, its structures and its citizens, and specifically forbade citizens to take part in an armed struggle.

The principle of allegiance to the state was not in conflict with or excluded by the Constitution, he said.

Judge Jordaan said the crime of high treason was recognised in several European countries, as well as in the USA and Canada.

The 22 accused in the treason trial were not accused of minor political deeds, but of forming an organisation and recruiting others to overthrow the existing government - and committing serious, violent crimes in the process.

They were accused of the large-scale manufacture of explosives and causing a series of bomb explosions which killed a person and caused damage worth millions of rands.

They were also accused of attempting to murder former president Nelson Mandela while on the run from police.

These were violent criminal actions that ran counter to the supremacy of the law and attacked the very foundation of democracy.

Armed struggle for self-determination was unconstitutional and violated the Constitution.

It could only be achieved within the bounds of the Constitution through negotiation and could only be accomplished through national legislation, the judge said.

He said there was no indication that the accused had tried to negotiate the right to self-determination. Their defence of the accused, who are white, was in fact that they were preparing themselves against an armed attack by blacks.

The judge further ruled that the accused's right to a fair trial had not been violated in any way.

He said the length of the trial could largely be laid at the door of the accused, who launched over 40 separate applications complaining about anything from the lights in the cells to the music in jail.

Many of the accused had numerous legal representatives during the course of the nine-year trial, which had resulted in further delays.

The applications included an attack on the legality of the Constitution, the jurisdiction of the court and an application for the judge and the leader of the prosecution to withdraw from the trial.

A belated application by three of the accused to be declared "prisoners of war" also took up many months.

The accused denied all of the charges at the start of the trial and many of them only changed their versions and made certain admissions many years later.

A total of 194 witnesses testified for the state, and many state witnesses spent months in the witness box.

Judge Jordaan also rejected the accused's claims that they did not have a fair trial because the State opposed bail for some.

They also claimed the fact that they were transported with loud sirens to court every day and that some were forced to wear chains in court violated their right to humane treatment, and created the impression that they were dangerous.

Judgement continues.

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