A panel of judges in Juba on Tuesday adjourned a special court hearing of South Sudan's case against four political detainees suspected of attempting to overthrow President Salva Kiir's government.
The hearing was adjourned because a key prosecution witness, Interior Minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu, failed to appear in court for the second day running.
Aleu was expected to testify against former SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum, former security minister minister Oyay Deng Ajak, former deputy defense minister Majok Atem, and the former envoy of the semi-autonomous southern Sudan government to the United States, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth.
The four accused were detained along with seven other politicians shortly after fighting erupted in Juba on December 15. Kiir has said the fighting was an abortive coup led by former vice president, Riek Machar. All of the accused have denied the charge.
The prosecution gave no reason for Aleu’s failure to turn up for the hearing. Lead prosecutor James Mayen asked the court to drop Aleu from the list of state witnesses.
The five-judge panel granted the request after lead defense counsel Monyluak Alor raised no objections.
On Monday, the judges said Aleu could be arrested if he failed to show up in court. Dropping him from the list of state witnesses would remove the threat of arrest.
The defense asked that testimony given earlier in the case by Aleu be struck from the court records.
“Because there are documents and other evidence that is associated with this witness, and we requested from the court that all evidence brought forth by this witness should be disregarded. So his absence is a good thing for the defense team,” one of the lawyers of the four accused, Kur Lual, said.
Tuesday's adjournment was the latest delay in the three-week-old hearings. A day after the hearings started, the judges ordered the court adjourned for a week after the prosecution demanded that seven more politicians also stand trial. The seven were detained in December but were released after the signing of a peace agreement in January.
The prosecution asked for another adjournment when the seven failed to show up in court for the scheduled hearings, but the judges denied the request. They said the four accused had a right to a speedy trial.
The hearings are due to resume on Friday, when the prosecution is expected to call four more witnesses. Defense witnesses are expected to testify next week.