By Beng Humphrey Fang
“I am facing a death sentence here. You cannot stop us from talking even if you want to charge us for contempt and sentence us. We have the right to talk. It is not a favour given us to talk. I insist that it is not a favour as you are saying there…”
This was Barrister Eyambe, one of those standing trial alongside Sisiku Ayuk-Tabe Julius in a Yaounde military court. It was during their last but one appearance in court and he blurted out to the trial Judge who ordered the accused to keep quiet, stating that the opportunity the accused persons had been given to speak was but a favour accorded them.
But an undaunted Eyambe screamed further: “I cannot be standing a deadly trial and a witness testifies against me in the absence of my lawyers.” The trial of the Ambazonia leaders had taken a dramatic turn after lawyers defending the accused persons staged a walkout of the court hall and which the presiding magistrate described as ‘voluntary and unjustifiable.’
Having decided to walk out without justification and not reconstituting themselves, said the judge, could not stop the trial from proceeding. But the accused resisted, beckoning on the court to come to knowledge on the fact that they cannot be tried on felonious crimes in the absence of their lawyers and still have a chance to reconcile with their counsel to come back or not.
Citing humanitarian reasons, the accused persons had requested for an adjournment. Che Fidelis, one of the 10 accused persons and two others were said to be sick and could not withstand the rigours of the trial. The situation of Che Fidelis was said to have gotten more serious in the restart of session after the first suspension. The accused persons earlier on before their counsel’s walkout had through one of them, Professor Augustine Awasum told the court that they were on hunger strike in protest against the ‘abduction’ of over ‘195 Ambazonians’ from the Yaoundé, Kondengui Central prison riot and had suffered protracted illnesses.
“It is just a matter of respect that we came to this court today,” Prof. Awasum told the tribunal. But the government commissioner reacting, rubbished the hunger strike staged by the accused, adding that it was a delay tactic by the accused on the proceedings. Medical problems, as they accused claimed are affecting some of them, are proven in papers or medical reports or documents and not by verbal pronouncements. The accused persons in court had rejected a medical offer by the colonel who is also l medical doctor, brought to testify against them to one theirs, Che Fidelis, arguing that someone testifying against them on dead penalty charges cannot be brought to attend one of theirs.
The court’s call for witnesses against the accused persons to testify sparked a row as the defendants took to their feet insisting that it cannot happen in the absence of their lawyers and one of them who lied sick in court. Barrister Shufai Blaise Berinyuy was overheard while addressing the court saying that the move by the court was clear injustice and questioning how it was possible for the new counsel to cross examine the witness’ testimony presented in their absence.
“I am facing a death sentence here. You cannot stop us from talking, even if you want to charge us for contempt and sentence us. We have the right to talk. It’s not a favour given us to talk. I insist it is not a favour as you are saying there” Barrister Eyambe exploded.
“I cannot be standing a deadly trial and a witness testifies against me in the absence of my lawyers” he added.
“Why can you not just judge and sentence us in our absence as you want to try us in the absence of our lawyers? Will our brother who is lying sick here get up and know what was testified against him by the witness?” accused persons ferociously questioned calling on the court to take them back to prison and continue with the case.
“We are pleading that we should be taken back to prison and let the hearing continue. This case cannot continue unless we are taken out and you people continue,” the defendants could be heard shouting out and overshadowing the witness ordered to ride on with the testimony.
The prosecution in their submission after the defense had walked out said the action by the lawyers to walk out was in disrespect of the law and out of ego, warning that “those who want the respect of the law should first of all respect it.” The prosecution had regretted that their clients never had the opportunity which the defendants have to have been tried before being killed but said they are much ready for the prosecution to start while insisting that no interlocutory ruling had ever been passed in the court as the defense claim.
According to the defense on the walk out, their appeals at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court against the court’s interlocutory rulings are still pending examination. Citing the law, they said the military court which is of the first instance is supposed to suspend proceedings on the matter. But the judge had told the court that the appeal does not or cannot suspend proceedings on the matter on grounds that the issues said to have been appealed are not substantive.
After the second suspension the of session for the day at 6:11pm as a result of the accused’s resistance against the attempted trial in their lawyers’ absence, the presiding magistrate noted that the tribunal took into consideration the health situation of the accused and for humanitarian reasons, adjourned the matter to yesterday, Monday, August 19.
As we went to press, nothing substantial had yet filtered from the proceedings.