KINSHASA: More than 50 defendants, including six who have US, British, Canadian or Belgian citizenship, appeared in court in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday. They were charged with taking part in a ‘failed coup’, along-with ‘other offences’, which carry the death penalty.

On May 19, armed men briefly occupied an office of the presidency, in Kinshasa, the country’s capital city. This was just before their leader, the US-based Congolese politician, Christian Malanga, was ‘killed by security forces’.

The defendants include Malanga’s 22-year-old son, Marcel Malanga, two US citizens and the three other holders of foreign passports. However, they all have Congolese roots.

The first day of the military trial took place under a tent, in the yard of Ndolo military prison, on Kinshasa’s outskirts. The defendants filed in, wearing blue and yellow prison-issued tops and lined up before the judge.

The 53 defendants face charges including illegal arms possession, criminal conspiracy, terrorism and attempts to destabilise state institutions and undermine the integrity of the state, some of which risk the ‘death penalty’ or lengthy prison sentences.

The defendants were identified in court and their charges read out. However, they were not asked to enter a plea. Congo lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in March, citing treachery and espionage in recurring armed conflicts as the reason.

Richard Bondo, a lawyer for one of the US detainees, told journalists it was too soon to talk of possible extradition, and the presumption of innocence applied.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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