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Court Official Says Charles Taylor Not held Incommunicado

An official for the Special Court for Sierra Leone denies accusations that the court is treating Charles Taylor unfairly at his trial.

The head of a group helping defend Taylor against war crimes charges says he’s being held incommunicado and that the court is not doing enough to ensure it’s a fair trial.

Herman Von Hebel is acting registrar for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. From Freetown, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the absence of Charles Taylor during today’s court proceedings.

“We would always prefer the accused to be in the courtroom. After all, it is a trial against him. And the normal practice of course would be that he and a defense team for him were to appear. I think we see it as part of his objections to what he considers as shortcomings in the possibility for his defense team to properly present his defense for him and some issues in the detention unit. Our position is that as such we don’t see any problem…in the detention facility issues nor in his defense. We’re always open for seeing what kind of defense would be proper for him, but the amount of support that we provide for an accused like him is beyond what is normally practiced in tribunals like the special court,” he says.

Von Hebel says Taylor won’t be allowed to “dictate” to the court. Asked what happens if the accused fails to appear on the scheduled resumption date of July 3rd, he says, “There have been cases in other tribunals where an accused did not appear at all during his entire trial…. The important thing is we will see that there is a proper defense in the courtroom. The purpose of the third of July and the brief delay here is in order to make sure that on the third of July there is a proper defense counsel representing him in court so that his defense issues are being properly addressed by then.”

John Richardson, head of the Association for the Legal Defense of Charles Taylor, has accused the court of keeping Charles Taylor incommunicado. Von Hebel says, “No, that is not correct. He has the opportunity to communicate with family members. He has the opportunity to communicate with the defense team and that is by definition always privileged communication…representatives of Liberia and maybe other international organizations like the International Red Cross; he can meet with them. I had put restrictions on his communication a couple of weeks ago because of the fact that we received information from the prosecution, which looked like there is serious concerns with him trying to interfere with witnesses. And that of course is something that we cannot allow.”

He says the defense challenged the move, but the action was upheld by the court. Von Hebel says the court is doing everything within reason to provide a fair trial for the former Liberian leader.