March 20, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese high court on Thursday ruled that it would continue hearing the case against four of the country’s senior politicians charged with treason despite the absence of the seven co-accused officials released over a month ago.
State prosecutor James Mayen last week asked court to adjourn the trial for a week, pending the arrival of the seven officials, now in the hands of Kenyan authorities.
Mayen argued that the trial, which was meant to start on Wednesday, could not go ahead as the issue of the seven politicians in Kenya was still being pursued by the foreign affairs ministry.
“It is matter of time and they (the seven co-accused) will come”, said the state prosecutor.
But Monytil Alor, the lawyer defending the four treason suspects, objected to the state prosecutor’s request.
Meanwhile, the five judges of the high court hearing the case later ruled that the politicians in Kenya were not legally obliged to appear in court because “bail regulations were not followed” when the seven were released.
“[In order] not to delay justice for the four accused, the request made by prosecutor is rejected,” the judges, headed by Justice James Alala, ruled.
They said the trial of the four officials, who include the former secretary-general of South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM), Pagan Amum, former ambassador Ezekiel Gatkuoth, as well as former ministers Majak D’Agot and Oyai Deng could continue irrespective of the absence of the other seven released on bail.
DEFENCE HAILS COURT RULING
Alor described the ruling made by the judges as “victory for the defence”.
“The persecution [team] wanted to delay the trial on the grounds that the seven [officials released on bail] were not brought [to the court] and they (the persecution team) wanted to wait for the seven. We objected to that vigorously,” the defence lawyer told Sudan Tribune.
Meanwhile, state witnesses who included a police officer identified as Siad Abudalizi and Marial Chanuon, the commander of the presidential guards, testified before court that South Sudan’s former vice-president, Riek Machar, and his group, which included the four officials now on trial,had incited the violence, which initially erupted in the capital, Juba, in mid-December last year .
The trial continues on Friday, with lawyers from both sides due to cross-examine witnesses.
Other state witnesses expected to testify before the court include Maj-Gen Marial Nuor from the national police service, interior minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu, director for military intelligence Mac Paul, director-general for the internal security bureau Akol Koor Kuc and director-general for external relations Thomas Duoth.
None of the senior officials were present in court during the trial’s opening, although a case number was obtained from police, with officials claiming liability.
JUBA DEFIES PRESSURE
The trial of the four accused officials, which commenced last week, continued on Thursday despite mounting international pressure demanding their release ahead of the resumption of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, this month.
Observers have questioned the lack of complainants against the accused, although some security officers and government officials have emerged as eyewitnesses to the mid-December events.