Today, the trial of Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and former journalist Joshua arap Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) was held in private session.
The hearing lasted about one and a half hours before Trial Chamber V(a) adjourned the proceedings for the day. It is unclear what transpired in Thursday’s hearing because it was held entirely in private session. Even the routine of the different legal teams stating for the record their presence in court was not seen by the public.
This week Witness 727 was scheduled to be testifying via video link before the trial chamber after judges ordered him to do so last month. As of Wednesday, he had not testified. It is possible he did so during Thursday’s proceeding.
According to a Dutch lawyer who represents him, Witness 727 has been in hiding. Michiel Pestman told the Netherlands National News Agency, known by its Dutch acronym ANP, that his client went into hiding because he fears testifying before the ICC.
In a story ANP published on Tuesday, Pestman said Witness 727 and his family have been granted asylum in the Netherlands. The lawyer said a Dutch court had ordered his client to testify before the ICC as per the order of Trial Chamber V(a). Pestman told the news agency that his client went into hiding after the Dutch court threatened to jail him if he failed to appear before the ICC.
“The investigative judge must indeed ensure the safety of the witness,” Pestman told ANP. “Now he and his family are being put at risk by forcing him to talk. That really is unacceptable.”
The ANP story does not indicate on what date the Dutch court issued the order to Witness 727 or when it is the judge issued the threat to jail the witness if he continued to decline to testify.
In its February 17 decision, Trial Chamber V(a) had ordered the Registry of the ICC to transmit to the relevant authorities its summons for Witness 727 to testify before the chamber via video link. In that decision, the chamber gave the Registry until March 6 to update it on the progress in implementing the chamber’s decision, so it is likely the Dutch judicial system became involved in the matter of Witness 727 between February 17 and March 6.
On Tuesday, Prakken d’Oliveira, a firm of human rights lawyers where Pestman works, said in a statement that Witness 727 and his family have “received serious threats due to a potentially incriminating statement that the witness could make against Mr. Ruto,” before the ICC. The statement said the witness feared for his life, and this is why he did not wish to testify.
In its February 17 decision, the trial chamber noted that Witness 727 had been relocated specifically because of his security concerns. The chamber also noted that despite being relocated the witness set three conditions for testifying before it. These conditions were he testifies entirely in camera, his national lawyer is present during his testimony, and he should not be asked to reveal privileged communication in court.
Marina van Riel, a resident fellow with the Open Society Justice Initiative, translated into English from Dutch the ANP story referred to in this article.