March 12, 2014 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s government has asked a special court in Juba to impose maximum penalties against four political detainees who are accused of treason for allegedly attempting to depose president Salva Kiir Mayardit and his leadership from power.
- Former SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum attends his court trial in the South Sudan capital, Juba, on 11 March 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campanu)
The alleged coup plot of on 15 December has triggered a conflict that has killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands plunging South Sudan into a political, security and humanitarian crisis.
On the second day of the trial, Judge James Alala Deng, the president of the court, agreed to the prosecutions request to adjourn the trial for one week until 19 March so that key witnesses could return to Juba to testify.
Seven other senior officials accused of involvement were released on bail to Kenya but then travelled to Addis Ababa to take part in the stalled peace process.
"The trial of these officials tests the ability of our judiciary. It is actually the first case of its kind in this country", lead prosecutor James Mayen Oka said at the opening of hearing on Tuesday.
In a presentation before the court, the prosecutor stated that the criminal case against the four accused was initiated on December 16, 2013, at the Northern Division Police Station in Juba, under criminal case number 4701.
He read out that former army chief of staff, Oyai Deng Ajak, Pagan Amum Okiech former SPLM secretary-general, Majak D’Agoot ex-deputy defense minister and diplomat Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth were arrested on remand.
The charges against the four officials include treason, incitement of the masses, causing disaffection among police forces or defense forces, defaming the government of South Sudan and undermining authority of or insulting the president.
Participation in the press conference on December 6 where the four, along with many other senior members of the SPLM strongly criticised President Kiir’s leadership of the ruling party and the country, along with a recorded audio of a phone call between two of the accused, were cited as evidences.
The press release, which was issued by the group during the December 6 press conference will also be used as evidence, as will the fact that Pagan Amum, chaired the meeting.
Other evidence that will be brought by the prosecution includes the clash within the Presidential Guards on the night of 15 December, when shooting broke out in Juba.
The prosecution claim to have a recorded audio in which Taban Deng Gai, the former Unity state governor who is now leading the rebel’s delegation to stalled peace talk in Addis Ababa, claimed reportedly told one of the suspects, Oyai Deng Ajak, they were under pressure at the time from their forces to take action to remove president Kiir from power.
The telephone correspondences allegedly took place in the night of December 15 on the directive former Vice President Riek Machar, who allegedly ordered forces loyal to him to take guns from the armory.
The defense have questioned this evidence and appear likely to challenge whether it is admissible.
Machar, Deng and the other rebels as well as the defendants and seven detainees who have been freed all deny plotting a coup attempt and claim Kiir used the split in the military to try silence his opponents.
"This audio will be produced in court and all of you will hear it, and other things, other transcripts that were recorded that night", the prosecutor said.
Machar and Deng, as well as South Sudan’s former environment minister, Alfred Lado Gore will face the same charges in absentia.
The prosecutor also stated that former cabinet affairs Minister, Deng Alor Kuol, former transport and bridges minister, Gier Chuang Aluong, former finance minister Kosti Manibe Ngai, former justice minister John Luk Jok, former youth minister Cirino Hiteng, former telecommunication and postal services minister, Madut Biar Yel and former Lakes state governor, Chol Tong faces the same charges though they were released on bail.
At the second day of the treason trial today at the judiciary premises near Juba Teaching Hospital, the prosecution requested that the seven other political detainees who were released to Kenya ‘on bail’ return to give testimony.
Judge James Alala Deng, the president of the court, agreed to adjourn the trial for one week until 19 March in order to allow the seven time to return to Juba.
Independent analysts and observers have expressed doubt on the independence of the judiciary, citing previous decision by the supreme when it rejected a court case filed by former Secretary General Pagan Amum Okiech, saying personal rights were violated.
"This case will provide another opportunity for our judiciary to show independence. We have seen people coming out before to complain that their cases judged fairly", Alfred Deng, a native of the oil-contested border region Abyei said outside the court.
But Garang Deng, a native of Warrap State, commended decision of the government for allowing the court to hear the case before the public.
"The impression I had before has now been changed. I though this case would be confined but I see public members have been allowed to attend the hearing. The courtroom has since yesterday been full beyond it capacity that some people do not find seats or even a space to stand. Outside as you can see is also occupied. This is a step forward", Deng told Sudan Tribune.
Another citizen from Lakes State who did not want to be identified said: "There is no strong evidence being presented before the court by the prosecutor. He is presenting [a] press release and illegal tracking of telephone conversations between individuals as evidence before the court. Telephone tracking and recording is illegal practices. It is not constitutional. There is provision in the transitional constitution of the republic of South Sudan which allows tracking and telephone recording to be used in the court as evidence."
Prosecutor Oka said the judge should impose the maximum penalties provided for under sections 66, 67, 72, 47, 75, 76, 206, 48, 52, 62 of the Penal Code Act 2008, stating that the four officials are charged under chapter five of the 2008 South Sudan penal code act.
Article 66 under South Sudan’s penal code deals with issues relating subverting constitutional government while 67 handles issues relating to insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism. Article 72 deals with possession of dangerous weapons.
Other articles cited as basis of constitutional charges include article 47 handles issues relating to right of private defense against deadly assault when there is risk of harm of innocent person.
Article 75 handles penalties relating to publishing or communicating false statement prejudicial to South Sudan.
Article 76 handles undermining authority of or insulting the president, while article 206 handles murder and article 48 addresses acts committed by several persons in furtherance of common intention. Article 52 is dedicated to abetment, while 62 handles penalties related to conspiracy.