News and Information

Treason trial Judge to rule on second 'media gag' bid
March 3, 2005



THE Caprivi high treason trial is set to resume in the High Court at Grootfontein today with the trial's second ruling on a prosecution application for the protection of a witness's identity.

There were no proceedings in the trial yesterday.

Judge Elton Hoff postponed the trial on Tuesday to work on a ruling on the latest prosecution application.

At the centre of the application is the State's tenth witness, who has indicated that he does not want his name or photographs of him to be published.

The 37-year-old witness told Judge Hoff on Tuesday that the windows of his house had been broken, a domestic worker had been assaulted, and he himself had received a death threat.

He said he was being blamed for the detention of suspects accused in the high treason trial.

He wanted to have his name and face kept out of the media because the families of the treason trial accused back in Katima Mulilo "will take it as if I have reported these people, whereas each of them was arrested over what he did as an individual," the witness explained.

He feared that the people in court, and people outside, might kill him, even after the trial was over, he told the Judge.

In the course of the trial since late in August last year, Judge Hoff has heard two other prosecution applications for a court order for the protection of a witness's identity.

The second was quickly abandoned, while the first resulted in a ruling on October 15 last year in terms of which the media were prohibited from revealing the identity of the witness.

As on those previous two occasions, the defence again opposed the State's application this week.

Deputy Prosecutor General Herman January told the Judge that the State was not trying to "gag" the media, as the defence would have it, but was asking for a protection order because there was a real fear on the part of the witness that harm may be done to him.

It was not a remote or fanciful fear of harm, but because of a reasonable possibility of harm, January argued.

Defence counsel Greyson Nyoni, who addressed the Judge on behalf of the team of nine defence lawyers, offered a different take on the matter to the court.

Nyoni said from his observation of the witness, he was someone who would not need the kind of protection asked for by the prosecution.

Under cross-examination, the witness had told the court that he was set on telling the Judge the truth, and that nothing would deter him from telling that truth, Nyoni noted.

He added that the trial appeared to be proceeding well, with the court in full control of proceedings, the accused persons co-operating and not being disruptive, and an atmosphere of respect existing between the prosecution, defence and accused.

Nyoni asked why a bitter tone then had to be introduced through an application of this sort.

It would not be the 120 accused that would be harmed by an order protecting a witness's identity; it would be the people of Namibia and the Caprivi Region, who have a right to know who did what and who was saying what in the trial, Nyoni argued.

He also reminded Judge Hoff of a quote from an English law lord that the Judge had included in his ruling on the first application for witness protection.

It reads: "Publicity is the very soul of justice.

It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity.

It keeps the Judge himself, while trying, under trial."


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