News and Information
Lawyers' withdrawal on the cards in second treason trial
|March 16, 2006
* WERNER MENGES
THE two defence lawyers representing the 12 men charged in the second Caprivi high treason trial came within a whisker of withdrawing from the trial yesterday.
Defence lawyers Nate Ndauendapo and Zagrys Grobler will remain on record as legal representatives for the 12 treason suspects when their case returns to the High Court in Windhoek tomorrow, but whether they will actually still be receiving instructions from the 12 remains unclear.
The 12 suspects yesterday made their first appearance before Acting Judge John Manyarara in the High Court after they refused last week to plead to the six charges they face and staged a short-lived walkout from court.
Yesterday's proceedings were dominated by efforts to sort out the effects of the events of last week Monday.
Ndauendapo, who represents 11 of the 12, first informed Acting Judge Manyarara yesterday that he and Grobler had held lengthy discussions with their clients, and that they were told that if they were not prepared to carry out the instructions given to them, they should withdraw from the case.
Having told the court that, Ndauendapo announced that he was indeed withdrawing.
Grobler, who represents one of the 12, confirmed what Ndauendapo told the court and followed suit by also telling the court he was withdrawing.
Acting Judge Manyarara was not satisfied with that explanation, though, and asked Ndauendapo to put on record what the instructions were that he and Grobler regarded as impossible.
"In essence really their instructions are they don't regard themselves as Namibians.
As far as they are concerned, they are Caprivians, and Caprivi is not part and parcel of Namibia," Ndauendapo replied.
"So in essence they want us to bring an application challenging the alleged unlawful occupation of Caprivi by the Namibian Government," he said.
Acting Judge Manyarara asked Ndauendapo whether he had reminded his clients of the oath he had taken as a legal practitioner, and asked him to place that oath on record.
"As an officer of the court we have taken an oath to respect and uphold the Constitution," Ndauendapo said.
And according to that Constitution, the Caprivi Region is an integral part of Namibia, Acting Judge Manyarara noted.
With the two lawyers having told the court they were withdrawing, one of the 12, Vincent Siliye, addressed the court on behalf of the 12 men.
He confirmed that they had instructed the lawyers to bring an application to question the court's power to try them on the high treason and other charges, and that they are claiming that the Namibian Government is illegally occupying Caprivi, and that the 12 regarded themselves as Caprivians, and not Namibians.
"When we went to Botswana, we went to pursue the independence of Caprivi.
We didn't commit any crime here," Siliye said.
Namibian officials thereafter brought them from Botswana to Namibia to charge them with crimes that they did not commit, he added.
Said Siliye: "We are illegally detained and illegally before this court."
He later added: "This case is a political issue, not a criminal matter."
This is the point on which their lawyers did not want to listen to them, Siliye said.
Acting Judge Manyarara repeatedly reminded Siliye of the oath that Ndauendapo and Grobler had taken to uphold and defend Namibia's Constitution - and that any other lawyer who might represent them, would be in the same position.
In effect, the 12 were putting themselves and their lawyers in an impossible situation with their insistence on those instructions, the Acting Judge hinted.
He told Siliye: "There is no lawyer, advocate, barrister, legal practitioner on this planet who can carry out those instructions."
He also told Siliye that the court has noted pleas of not guilty on all the charges on behalf of all 12 accused, and that this meant that the State would have to prove every single issue in its indictment against them beyond a reasonable doubt.
With Siliye having told Acting Judge Manyarara that the 12 did not tell the lawyers to withdraw, and that they in fact wanted to be legally represented, even though they did not want to have any part in the criminal trial, the Judge said he would not accept a withdrawal by the two defence counsel.
"You may use him if you wish; you may ignore him if you wish," he told Siliye and company about their lawyers, who will have to remain at their posts tomorrow.
The 12 are accused of having been part of a plan to secede the Caprivi Region between September 1998 and December 2003, when the last of them were arrested after they had been deported from Botswana.
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