22 February 2013

Namibia: Treason Trial Boycotters Warned of Risks

SIXTEEN of the men facing charges in the main Caprivi high treason trial returned to the High Court at Windhoek Central Prison yesterday to be cautioned about the risks they run through their boycott of their trial.

By staying away from the proceedings in their trial, the boycotting treason accused may be prejudicing themselves, Judge Elton Hoff advised the 16 men when they made a specially arranged appearance in court, in the absence of their co-accused who have been attending the trial.

The appearance of the 16 accused, who are not represented by defence lawyers, was requested by the prosecution.

The leader of the prosecution team, Deputy Prosecutor General Herman January, told Judge Hoff that the 16 unrepresented accused should understand that they might suffer prejudice if they continue to stay away from the trial. He asked the judge to explain that to them again, and to explain to them the rights they have as accused now that the trial has reached its defence stage.

January reminded the judge that a spokesperson acting on behalf of the unrepresented accused, who numbered 30 at that stage, told the court in March 2007 that the group had decided not to continue attending the trial, but that they would return to court after the prosecution had closed its case.

The court was told then that the group believes that the laws and Constitution of Namibia do not apply in the Caprivi Region, that "the Caprivi Strip" is not part of Namibia, and that a Namibian court does not have jurisdiction over them.

Since then, some of the unrepresented accused have opted to take up legal representation by the defence lawyers involved in the trial again, leaving 16 accused currently still staying away from trial proceedings.

Citing provisions in the Criminal Procedure Act, January said the reason why the accused were arrested and are being kept in custody is to ensure that they attend court proceedings, and not to give them a choice whether to attend or not.

Their staying away from court creates a serious precedent that accused persons would be allowed to decide whether they feel like attending their trial or not, he said.

Judge Hoff told the group that he wanted to impress on them the importance of their presence in the criminal proceedings in which they are involved.

Their presence is important because they need to have an opportunity to listen to the evidence being given, to cross-examine witnesses, and to put their defence to witnesses, he said.

He continued that he wanted to give them an opportunity to attend the rest of the proceedings in the trial.

He also advised them that, with the trial having reached its defence stage, they have the right to now testify in their own defence, to call witnesses to testify in their defence, and also to remain silent if that is their preferred choice.

Having heard this, a spokesperson for the group, Thaddeus Ndala, told Judge Hoff that they have requested a lawyer to provide them with a legal opinion on a matter which they might want to take up.They would be in a position to inform the court by Monday next week, when their co-accused are also due to return to court, what has happened on that score, he indicated.

Another member of the group, Francis Pangala, told the judge that he will again be attending the trial from Monday. He also wants to be represented again by a defence lawyer instructed by the Directorate of Legal Aid, Pangala said.

Out of the original group of 30 unrepresented trial boycotters, seven of the accused who later again took up legal representation were acquitted by Judge Hoff at the start of last week. One other, unrepresented member of the group was also discharged by the judge.

The acquittal of 43 of the remaining accused in the case leaves 65 people in the dock before Judge Hoff.

They are facing a total of 278 charges - including a main count of high treason, nine counts of murder, and 240 counts of attempted murder.

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