A controversial criminal trial in Nauru that could see three former MPs and their supporters jailed has begun, with a senior Australian judge set to be the star witness for the defence.
- The MPs are among a group of defendants facing trial over a violent demonstration in 2015
- They were among hundreds protesting the MPs' suspension from parliament
- Geoffrey Eames, a former Victorian Supreme Court judge, is preparing to give evidence in the trial
Opposition MPs Squire Jeramiah, Sprent Dabwido and Matthew Batsiua are among 18 defendants facing trial following a violent demonstration outside parliament on June 16, 2015.
They were among hundreds protesting against the former MPs' suspension from parliament after the opposition MPs made comments critical of the Nauruan government in parliament.
The MPs had spoken out about the erosion of the independence of the judiciary in Nauru after the deportation of resident magistrate, Australian lawyer Peter Law, and the barring of Nauruan Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames from re-entering the country in 2014.
Mr Eames, a former Victorian Supreme Court judge, served as Nauru's chief justice between December 2010 and January 2014.
Mr Eames was critical of what he described as the erosion of judicial independence in Nauru following his resignation.
He is now preparing to give evidence for the defence in the trial.
The group of 18 are defending charges of riot, serious assault, unlawful assembly, disturbing parliament and entering a security restricted area at Nauru's aerodrome.
Most have pleaded not guilty.
Three defendants pleaded guilty to some — but not all — of their charges last November.
They received jail terms of between three and six months and are currently on bail pending an appeal to Nauru's Supreme Court. Acting chief justice Mohammed Shafi Khan currently presides over that court.
The group is being represented by a team of Australian barristers, instructed by Sydney solicitor Christian Hearn, who are attempting to halt the trial on the basis that their clients would not receive a fair hearing.
The trial was listed to start yesterday but sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the ABC that proceedings were delayed by the absence in court of Nauru's Solicitor-General Jay Udit.
Mr Udit is attempting to prevent the defence's bid to cross-examine key government officials including powerful Justice Minister David Adeang.
Magistrate Penijamini Lomaloma ruled that the trial could not start until Mr Udit appeared in court.
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According to documents filed in court, witnesses for the prosecution include police officers, aviation officials, and community members who witnessed the riot.
The defence also plans to call evidence from Mr Law, as well as the suspended MPs.
The trial is open to the public but no foreign reporters were present at the court hearing this week.
Journalists are required to pay thousands of dollars to apply for visas to enter Nauru. But they are rarely granted. Only three Australian journalists have been allowed to enter Nauru in the past two years.
Nauru's government information office has not responded to the ABC's request for information or an interview, and the Government's Brisbane-based public relations consultant Mercer PR has not responded.
A spokesperson for the Nauru Government said any suggestion that Nauru's judicial independence had been compromised was "insulting to the fine judges" that make up Nauru's judiciary.
"The Government does not comment on current matters before the court," the spokesperson said.