Congolese ‘plotters’ claim abuse in S.Africa prison
A group of Congolese men complained Monday of abuse at the hands of South African prison officers while awaiting trial for an alleged plot to kill DRC President Joseph Kabila and overthrow his government.
The prisoners were allegedly kicked and punched in holding cells in Pretoria, according to a lawyer representing 14 of the 20.
“I have received complaints of physical abuse, verbal abuse and naturally it would lead to emotional abuse of my clients,” Thesigan Pillay told AFP.
The 20 men were arrested 17 months ago after police uncovered an alleged plot to kill Kabila which included a “hit list” of other Congolese leaders on a computer belonging to one of them.
“One of my clients indicated to me that they attempted to use a knife to stab him,” added Pillay.
“They are denied medical care after such assaults because if they are granted medical care their injuries would have to be documentation,” he said.
The lawyer reported the allegations to a court on Monday when the group’s trial was scheduled to start. He said the men were also only let out of their cells one hour a day.
Armed police guarded the men inside a tense courtroom while a handful of supporters chanted anti-Kabila slogans outside.
Besides the president, the prosecution claims the group was targeting other senior DRC figures including the head of the military, interior minister and the central bank governor.
Most of the defendants, aged 25 to 49, were longtime residents of South Africa and belonged to a group that called itself the Union of Nationalists for the Renewal (UNR) of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They were caught in a sting operation after South African police infiltrated the group over a period of six months, secretly filming several meetings. Prosecutors also claim that the men exchanged emails discussing a planned coup d’etat.
Pillay said he would also fight the legality of the investigation because of the methods police used.
The trial was postponed for a week on Monday because one of the accused changed lawyers.
The DRC, a country nearly the size of western Europe, with abundant natural resources, has been shattered by decades of strife, particularly in its mineral-rich east.
Kabila took office in 2001 at the height of a devastating conflict that became known as “Africa’s Great War”. International envoys have expressed concern he could run for a third term in office, flouting constitutional term-limits.
Prison officials were not immediately reachable for comment.