US, British citizens among suspects on trial in Congo after thwarted coup

Benjamin Zalman Polun, Marcel Malanga and Taylor Thompson, American citizens suspected, along with a group of over fifty other people, to be involved in an attempted coup in Congo, wait for the beginning of their trial in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 7, 2024. REUTERS/Justin Makangara
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KINSHASA,- In a significant legal proceeding, more than 50 defendants, including six individuals with U.S., British, Canadian, or Belgian citizenship, appeared in a military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday.

They are charged with participating in a failed coup and other serious offenses that carry the death penalty.

The charges stem from an incident on May 19, when armed men briefly occupied an office of the presidency in Kinshasa. The leader of the group, U.S.-based Congolese politician Christian Malanga, was killed by security forces during the attempted coup.

Among the defendants is Malanga’s 22-year-old son, Marcel Malanga, along with two other U.S. citizens and three individuals holding foreign passports, all of whom have Congolese roots. The first day of the trial was held under a tent in the yard of Ndolo military prison on the outskirts of Kinshasa. The defendants, wearing blue and yellow prison-issued uniforms, stood before the judge as the proceedings began.

All 53 defendants face multiple charges, including illegal arms possession, criminal conspiracy, terrorism, and attempts to destabilize state institutions and undermine the integrity of the state. These charges carry severe penalties, including the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences.

During the initial court session, the defendants were identified, and the charges were read out, but they were not asked to enter pleas. Congo recently lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in March, citing reasons of treachery and espionage amidst ongoing armed conflicts.

Richard Bondo, a lawyer representing one of the U.S. detainees, Benjamin Zalman-Polun, emphasized that it was premature to discuss possible extradition and stressed the presumption of innocence for his client.

This high-profile trial underscores the Congolese government’s stern approach to addressing attempts to destabilize the country and reflects the tense political climate following the recent coup attempt. As the trial progresses, it will attract significant international attention, particularly concerning the foreign nationals involved and the implications of the lifted death penalty moratorium. – Reuters