CLOSING arguments in the main Caprivi high treason trial, which has become the largest and longest criminal trial in Namibia’s history, are due to be heard in the High Court from 24 November.

The date when Judge Elton Hoff will start hearing oral arguments on the verdict that he has to deliver in the marathon trial was announced when all but two of the 65 men still facing charges in the trial made a short appearance in the Windhoek High Court on Friday.

Deputy Prosecutor General Taswald July informed Judge Hoff that the two accused not present in court were absent due to illness. He also said the prosecution and the 10 defence lawyers involved in the trial have agreed that the defence’s written arguments would be delivered to the court by noon on 14 November, and that the hearing of oral arguments would begin on 24 November.

The prosecution lodged its written arguments, which run over close to 500 pages, with the court at the start of August.

The hearing of oral arguments would bring the trial, which is unprecedented in Namibian legal history in terms of its duration and the number of accused indicted in the matter, another step closer to its conclusion.

After the arguments have been heard, Judge Hoff will have to prepare the judgement in which he should indicate whether the accused before court have been convicted or acquitted on the 278 charges they are facing. If the prosecution has managed to secure a conviction, the court would have to hear further evidence and arguments in aggravation and mitigation of sentence before the convicted accused, if any, will have to be sentenced.

The remaining 65 accused have pleaded not guilty to a total of 278 charges – including counts of high treason and sedition, nine counts of murder and 240 charges of attempted murder – in connection with allegations that they had taken part in a conspiracy to secede the former Caprivi region from Namibia through armed means between 1992 and 2002.

The first phase of the trial began in the High Court at Grootfontein in October 2003 with the hearing of a jurisdiction challenge that was mounted by 13 of the accused.

The State started to present its evidence in the main part of the trial in late August 2004. By February 2012, after 379 State witnesses had testified in the main part of the trial, the prosecution closed its case.

The prosecution subsequently conceded that the charges against one of the accused were not proven, leading to his acquittal, while Judge Hoff found another 43 of the accused not guilty in February last year. His ruling left 65 accused in the dock. Since then, 31 of the accused have testified in their own defence, while 34 have elected to remain silent in response to the accusations against them.

Most of the accused, who were arrested in the wake of surprise attacks that a separatist organisation is alleged to have carried out at Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi Region on 2 August 1999, have been in custody for more than 15 years now.

Source : The Namibian