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Congolese accused of Kabila coup plot freed in S. Africa

A group of Congolese nationals accused of plotting to assassinate Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila were acquitted in a South African court Friday.

Charges were dropped against 15 of the 20 men on the recommendation of the prosecution, nearly two years after their arrests.

“The prosecution pointed out clearly that their case was not as strong as they believed,” said the group’s lawyer, Thesigan Pillay.

“I’m pleased for the accused who have been released but at the same time I’m concerned for the accused who remain in custody.”

A crowd of about 50 supporters shouting anti-Kabila slogans greeted the ex-prisoners as they left court.

The released men said they had suffered abuse at the hands of South African prison officials.

“It is better to live in hell than in a South African prison,” said newly-released David Muyembi.

“For 21 months, I spent 23 hours a day locked in a one-square-metre cell. I was also one of a few tortured and sent to hospital.”

Another of the freed men, James Jacob Mapima, said, “From the start, I knew this day would arrive because I knew I was innocent.

“But I am very angry because they decided to keep us in prison for two years, for nothing.”

The five remaining accused face charges of mercenary activities and conspiracy to murder.

Only four of the men will stay behind bars, however: Etienne Kabila, the alleged ringleader of the plot and self-professed half-brother of President Kabila, was previously released on bail.

Officers arrested the suspects on February 5 last year, six months after an agent infiltrated their group.

He filmed several meetings and exchanged emails over the alleged preparation for the coup.

The defendants have claimed they are the victims of a conspiracy between Kinshasa and the South African police.

The trial was adjourned to January.