THE trial of 20 men accused of plotting to overthrow Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila was postponed on Monday for another week because the lawyer representing 14 of the accused is challenging the constitutionality of the charges.
Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams said defence lawyer Thesigan Pillay filed a constitutional challenge against the validity of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.
The challenge is based on whether South African courts have jurisdiction to handle the case. The act prohibits any person within South Africa from engaging in mercenary activity and prevents anyone from offering to render any foreign military assistance to any state, group of people or person.
It states that any court of law in South Africa may try a person for an offence even if it was committed outside the country.
Mr Abrahams requested time to file a response before the application is heard on Friday.
This is not the first time a South African court has dealt with people whose alleged illegal activities were to be committed or were committed outside South Africa’s borders. Last year, the high court in Johannesburg convicted Henry Okah, a permanent resident of South Africa and leader of Nigerian militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta of 13 counts of murder for bombings in Warri and Abuja in 2010.
He is serving an effective 24-year jail sentence.
Okah was convicted of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act, which gives South African courts jurisdiction to hear crimes of terrorism committed beyond the borders of the country.
On Monday, Judge Billy Mothle said constitutional issues were raised when the accused pleaded: “We may have to start with the charges being placed before the accused, and issues raised will be part of the defence.”
The 20 men, who allegedly belong to the Union of Nationalists for the Renewal of the Democratic Republic of Congo, face charges of engaging in mercenary activities between September 2012 and February last year. They also face a charge of conspiracy to murder.
They have been in custody since their arrest during a pre-dawn raid last February.