Witnesses to be protected in pro-Biafra leader trial: judge

2016-03-08 09:24
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Abuja - A Nigerian court on Monday approved a request for prosecution witnesses to testify behind screens in the high-profile case of a pro-Biafra activist facing treason charges.

Judge James Tsoho said he agreed to the erection of screens shielding witnesses from public view because those giving evidence "must not necessarily be exposed to avoidable risk".

The witnesses will only be visible to the judge, lawyers and the three defendants, including Nnamdi Kanu, who runs the banned Radio Biafra and heads the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement.

Kanu's arrest in October last year sparked a wave of protests across southeast Nigeria, including renewed calls for a separate state for the Igbo people indigenous to the region.

A previous unilateral declaration of independence sparked a brutal civil war from 1967-1970 in which more than one million people died, many of them from starvation and disease.

State prosecutor Mohammed Diri told judge Tsoho witnesses were ready to testify but would not do so until they had assurances about their safety.

"This is because they are already receiving threats from the associates of the defendant that they will deal with them [witnesses]," he added.

Diri also read a note which he said he received from Nigeria's secret police, the Department of State Services, which suggested Kanu's supporters were planning to seize him during the trial.

The case was adjourned until Wednesday but defence lawyer Ifeanyi Ejiofor told reporters outside court he would challenge the decision to erect screens at the Court of Appeal.

Kanu has become a figurehead for the revived pro-Biafra movement. He has pleaded not guilty to "propagating a secessionist agenda" with the intention to "levy war against Nigeria".

But last month he told AFP from jail where he is on remand that he was a "prisoner of conscience" and that the dream of an independent state would one day come true.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari told Al-Jazeera English television in an interview broadcast on Saturday that the country "would not tolerate" pro-Biafra protests.

Read more on:    nigeria

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