In a surprising move, renowned human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe, representing eight men still facing various counts of high treason, sedition, public violence and the illegal importation of weapons and ammunition, withdrew from the case yesterday.
Tjombe successfully petitioned the Chief Justice for an appeal on the ruling by Acting High Court Judge Petrus Unengu that the Namibian courts have jurisdiction over the men, in the process securing the freedom of one of the men, Boster Mubuyaeta Samuele, but could not convince five judges of appeal that the other accused should benefit from the same principle.
Speaking to New Era after the Supreme Court ruling, Tjombe said he intends to challenge one of the charges the men face, namely sedition, as it is not really compatible in the circumstances.
However, when the trial resumed yesterday, he announced his withdrawal from the trial to Judge Shafimana Uitele who stood in for Judge Unengu.
Tjombe confirmed to New Era that his withdrawal is at the request of the clients, but refused to go into detail citing attorney-client privilege.
The trial has now been postponed to September 6 to allow the remaining accused the chance to apply for another legal aid lawyer.
Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President Petrus Damaseb, with Chief Justice Peter Shivute, Justice of Appeal Dave Smuts, Acting Justice of Appeal Fred Chomba and Acting Justice of Appeal Yvonne Mokgoro concurringly found that the Namibian security forces abducted Samuele from Botswana illegally and, as such, Namibian courts have no jurisdiction to try him on any of the charges preferred against him.
They ordered a permanent stay of prosecution against him, which will have the effect that the accused may not be prosecuted again on any of the charges on which he was indicted in the present prosecution.
But the deputy chief justice said the same cannot be said for Progress Kenyoka Munuma, Shine Samulandela Samulandela, Manuel Manepelo Makendano, Alex Sinjabata Mushakwa, Diamond Samunzala Salufu, Hoster Simasiku Ntombo and John Mazile Tembwe.
He found that the seven accused were brought on Namibian territory by agents of Botswana where they were surrendered to Namibian government officials.
The eight men petitioned the chief justice to hear the appeal after High Court Judge Petrus Unengu first dismissed their application on jurisdiction and then refused an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The eight claimed they were abducted from Botswana and brought to Namibia by officials from the Namibian government with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Botswana government.
Judge Unengu dismissed the appeal application in March this year.
The accused except for Frederick Isaka Ntambila – who was arrested in the Zambezi Region, then Caprivi Region, questioned the High Court’s jurisdiction over them.
It is alleged that they took part in a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the Namibian government in the former Caprivi Region between September 1998 and December 2003.
They were already convicted of high treason in July of 2007 and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 30 to 32 years.
The convictions and sentences were however set aside by the Supreme Court in July 2014 and it was ordered that they should be retried in the High Court.
State Advocate Neville Mawambo appeared on behalf of the State.