— The South Sudanese government on Thursday announced it is dropping its case against four politicians who are accused of attempting to oust President Salva Kiir in December.
“The leadership has decided that for the purpose of promotion of dialogue, reconciliation, harmony among the South Sudanese people... that I, as the minister of justice, should use my powers under section 25 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act 2008 to stay the proceedings,” Justice Minister Paulino Wanawila said.
The justice ministry has notified the special court hearing the case of the decision not to continue with proceedings against former SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum, former security minister Oyay Deng Ajak, former deputy defense minister Majok D'Agot Atem, and former envoy for southern Sudan to the United States, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, Wanawila said.
The four, who have been in detention since mid-December, will be freed "probably by tomorrow,” Wanawila said.
But, he added, the government intends to proceed with its case against three other former government officials who are leading the ongoing rebellion against Kiir's government.
The three -- former vice president Riek Machar; former governor of Unity state, Taban Deng Gai; and Alfred Ladu Gore, the former environment minister -- have been accused of masterminding what the government says was a failed coup on Dec. 15 that touched off fighting around the country.
All three are either in hiding or have left South Sudan. If they are apprehended, they could face treason charges.
Asked why the government has decided to drop its case against the four, Wanawila replied, "Public interest demands that this case should not continue.” He did not go into detail.
Lead defense lawyer, Monyluak Alor, has previously described the prosecution’s case as weak.
Reporters were allowed in to the packed courtroom in the morning when preliminary hearings began on March 11, 2014for four South Sudanese political detainees accused of involvement in an alleged coup bid.
During the hearings, which began in March, at least five prosecution witnesses, including Interior Minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu, failed to appear in court to tesify against the suspects.
Two other witnesses, Brigadier General Atem Benjamin and the director of military intelligence, Mach Paul Kuol, did take the stand for the prosecution -- but said they had no evidence to implicate the four suspects in the alleged coup bid.
Kuol was relieved of his duties as head of military intelligence on Wednesday. No reason was given for his firing.