, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 19 – The International Criminal Court (ICC) has brought down the shutters to the testimony of the first Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) witness, leaving Kenyans following the proceedings in limbo.
Trial Chamber V (a) judges ruled on Thursday that the entire account and subsequent cross-examination of the female witness, only identified as P0536, would be held in private to protect her wellbeing.
Pleas by the defence not to put a blanket cover over her whole testimony because her identity was still protected went unheard, as Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji’s gavel went down.
The judge had initially said that members of the public would have to understand the need for veiling the witness’ testimony.
“I am sure the public will understand because efforts are being made by some people to reveal the identity of the witnesses with obvious intent of discouraging the witness to testify. The public will surely understand that measures need to be taken,” he said.
The woman is testifying against Deputy President William Ruto and his co-accused Joshua arap Sang.
In her initial appearance on Tuesday, her face had been Pixilated and her voice distorted to sound like a man’s, all in an effort to hide her identity.
But trouble began when her name was made public in online social platforms late on Tuesday, before the matter was brought to the court the following day forcing the chamber to issue a stern warning to anyone who purports to out the witnesses.
The Office of The Prosecutor had asked for in-camera sessions regarding the witness claiming that her identity had been compromised and she was no longer safe.
Victims’ Legal Representative Wilfred Nderitu also reiterated the concerns saying that the media coverage that has followed the witness since she first took the stand, had psychologically affected her.
“It did appear to me yesterday when I visited her after the afternoon session that indeed her psychological wellbeing will be very seriously impacted by the kind of measures she gets and that definitely has an impact on the manner in which she would testify,” argued Nderitu.
Defence lawyers Karim Khan (for Ruto) and Katwa Kigen (Sang) had expressed concern over the request by the OTP saying it would be unfair and would encourage witnesses to lie because they will be protected from public scrutiny.
Khan said that it was unnecessary to put a blanket cover over her sessions because other protective measures were already in force.
“When there is facial distortion, voice distortion and the name not being disclosed, why shouldn’t the thrust of a witness’ testimony not go into the public domain except for those aspects of the testimony that may reveal the witness’ identity?” he asked.
Khan also revealed in his submissions that the witness would be relocated as a result of her identity disclosure.
The judges’ decision did not go down well with Kenyan Members of Parliament, who had accompanied Ruto and Sang to The Hague, with sources indicating that they wanted to hold demonstrations before they were advised against it.
Earlier reports had indicated that the witness had refused to take the stand once again due to familial pressure and fear.
The proceedings when the witness is testifying will also not be visible to those sitting in the gallery section of the court. Only those inside the four walled courtroom will know the events that transpire.