March 13, 2014 (JUBA) – A South Sudanese activist on Thursday demanded that a “fair trial” be granted to the four political officials accused by the government of allegedly attempting to forcefully remove president Salva Kiir and his leadership from power.
- South Sudan political detainees (left to right) Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, Majak d’Agoot, Pagan Amum and Oyai Deng Ajak at a trial hearing in Juba on 11 March 2014 (Photo: AFP/Andrei Pungovschi)
“We commend the government for formally informing the accused of what crimes they have committed. Now that they know what they have been accused of, we hope they would also be accorded an opportunity to defend themselves,” Sebit Anthony, a civil society activist, told Sudan Tribune.
The charges against the four senior officials from the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) include treason, incitement of the masses, causing disaffection among police or defence forces, defaming the government of South Sudan and undermining the authority of or insulting the president.
“We are at this junction asking for fair trial for each of the accused, so that credibility and the independence of our judiciary and court system are not compromised,” he added.
The activist, who expressed scepticism about the independence of the country’s judicial system, has raised questions over whether the accused officials would be fairly tried.
“Some of the our citizens are already calling them [a] kangaroo court, which is already an indication of [the] lack of trust in [the] judicial and court system,” said Sebit, who also praised the decision to allow the public and media to attend the hearings.
“We would like the spirit which I saw at the [opening of the] hearing sessions to continue. The court was opened to the members of the public, including the media. There were no restrictions which I observed at the hearing,” he said.
The activist, however, urged defence lawyers to adequately prepare their response to the charges now that their clients have been informed of their alleged crimes.
“It was difficult in the past to talk about this case because it was not clear what crimes have the accused committed because they were not informed,” he told Sudan Tribune.
Evidence purportedly seized at the residences of some of the accused include a new flag which the government claimed was to be used had the alleged coup succeeded, although the existence of such a plot continues to be disputed.
Recorded audio conversations, which allegedly took place between some of the accused, were produced as evidence before the court.
The government has also claimed that a press release issued by the SPLM officials and their participation, along with other of senior members of the ruling party, at a briefing held on 6 December last year was further proof of a plot to overthrow the regime through military action.
“I see the window of success in this case for the accused. This case can easily be lost by the government because there are no strong charges and evidences showing activities indicative of an attempt to remove the government from power by military action. You know that none of the accused at the time of their arrest was found in military uniform or possessing weapons,” a South Sudanese lawyer told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview, adding that telephone recordings were obtained illegally and should not be used in court as evidence.
“Telephone recording is itself [an] unconstitutional practice. It is only used by the security for informing relevant authority so that further investigation is carried out to substantiate the allegation, but it cannot be used as an evidence in the court whatsoever the case,” he added.
The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the charges were largely drawn from the press release issued by SPLM officials, including former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar, who will be tried on the same charges in absentia.
Monyluak Alor Kuol, the lead defence lawyer, told journalists on Wednesday that his team was now examining the prosecution witness accounts one by one before reacting to the charges.
“It is now clear what charges have been brought against our clients and we are now looking forward to see prosecution witnesses one by one,” said Kuol.
“There are about 13 of them. We shall develop defence witnesses depending on how the prosecution presents this case. So we are developing it,” he added, further disclosing that a team of international lawyers were set to join the defence team once accredited by authorities.
However, it remains unclear whether the government will grant accreditation to the international lawyers who have expressed a willingness to defend those accused.