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16 Apartheid Opponents Deny South Africa Treason Charges

October 22, 1985|United Press International

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Sixteen leaders of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front pleaded innocent to treason and terrorism charges Monday at the start of South Africa's biggest such trial in 21 years.

The 16 national and local front leaders went on trial in Pietermaritzburg, 300 miles southeast of Johannesburg, for allegedly trying to topple the government and instigating more than a year of anti-apartheid riots in which hundreds of people have been killed.

It was South Africa's biggest treason trial since Nelson Mandela, leader of the outlawed African National Congress guerrilla movement, was jailed for life in 1964 after being convicted of sabotage and treason.

The defendants in Monday's trial, including Archie Gumede, 70, and Albertina Sisulu, 67, co-presidents of the front, and Asian community leader Dr. Essop Jassat, face charges of high treason and terrorism. The trial is expected to last up to a year with more than 150 prosecution witnesses.

If convicted of treason, they could be sentenced to death, but hanging has not been ordered recently for anti-government activities that have not included murder.

The indictment also alleges that they helped launch a wave of racial violence that began in September 1984, when a new constitution took effect. The constitution excludes the nation's black majority from political power as part of the apartheid policy.

The United Democratic Front, a multiracial alliance, is the largest legal anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

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