A South Sudanese court sentenced a South African retired army colonel to death by hanging Friday for his alleged role in supporting rebels during the country’s four year civil war.
William Endley, 56, was arrested in late 2016 following the collapse of a peace deal between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and former vice president turned rebel leader Riek Machar.
South Sudan’s civil war is one of the worst in the world, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, a brief famine, and the largest refugee crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Endley served as a security advisor to Machar after the war began. Previously he had worked at security firms in the capital Juba.
The court sentenced him to two years imprisonment for illegal entry into South Sudan, four years for publication of false information, seven years for training and sabotage, and to death for conspiracy to overthrow the government, said defense lawyer Gar Adel Gar.
Gar told Mail & Guardian said the court’s verdict was a “mockery of justice.”
“I am intending to appeal next week as soon as I receive a copy of the court decree,” he said.
Gar accused the court of not following proper procedures regarding evidence and witnesses. No defense witnesses testified in the trial.
The lawyer said the trial should have been cancelled and any charges dropped because Kiir’s government signed a ceasefire with rebel groups in December that mandated all sides release prisoners of war and political prisoners. The ceasefire was broken within hours as fighting continued.
“This case should have been stayed immediately upon the signing of the cessation of hostilities, because the government committed to releasing all the prisoners of war or the political detainees,” said Gar. “He should have been unconditionally released.”
In January, Endley’s previous lawyers pulled out of the case saying the trial should not go forward due to the cessation of hostilities.
Endley’s co-accused, James Gatdet Dak, a former spokesman for Machar, was sentenced to death by hanging two weeks ago. Dak was deported to Juba by Kenyan authorities in late 2016 despite holding refugee status after fleeing South Sudan, and arrested upon arrival.
South Sudan’s ceasefire monitoring group, called the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said last week that they are looking into the case of the detainees with East African regional bloc IGAD, which brokered the December cessation of hostilities agreement.
In a statement, JMEC said they had yet to receive any complaints or requests for investigation into the detainees’ cases from any party to the ceasefire agreement, or from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helps handle prisoner release.
South Sudan’s Minister of Justice Paulino Wanawila said Endley is neither a political prisoner or a prisoner of war.
“He is someone who has committed crimes against South Sudan,” he told Mail & Guardian. “He was with the rebels. He had a military rank.”
Charmaine Quinn, Endley’s sister, appealed to South Africa’s government to intervene. South African officials have been attending the trial.
“Now we are appealing very strongly to please assist,” she told the Mail & Guardian. “This is now the point where we really need them.”
Nelson Kgwete, a spokesperson for the department of international relations and cooperation, said that the department is in the process of formulating an official response. “Our embassy in South Sudan will brief Head Office on the judgement and we will take it from there,” he told the M&G.
Quinn said the South African government has helped her to stay in contact with her brother, and to send packages, money, and medication to him in prison, but they were waiting for the court process to finish before calling on them to intervene.
South Africa’s government has tried to play a peacemaking role in South Sudan’s conflict, but many view Pretoria as siding with Kiir’s government in the conflict.
Rebel leader Machar has been held under house arrest in Pretoria after Kiir’s forces chased him from the capital to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo following a battle in Juba in July 2016 between the two men’s forces which left hundreds dead.
South Africa also recently signed a defense cooperation agreement with Juba, drawing criticism from human rights groups who pointed out that the South Sudanese army has committed atrocities including using child soldiers.
Endley had been jailed in Juba’s National Security headquarters known as the “Blue House” which contains a notorious prison where Amnesty International says torture of inmates has taken place.
The South African suffered from malnutrition and malaria while locked up, Quinn said.
Quinn said she last spoke to her brother on Thursday, and that he was in high spirits and able to make jokes. She said Endley will be transferred from National Security to the Central Prison in Juba.
“He keeps assuring me that hes 400% strong, that’s his words,” he said. “He just keeps telling me to not give up hope, and to get the South African government involved.”