An officer was sentenced to death on Monday, three other soldiers to ten years in prison and two acquitted by the military justice system which tried them for the repression of a demonstration which left more than 50 dead on August 30 in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The lawyers of the convicts, who had pleaded for acquittal, announced their intention to appeal.
The death penalty is often pronounced in the DRC but has not been applied for 20 years and is systematically commuted to life imprisonment.
Friday, in his indictment, the “senior auditor”, who represents the public prosecutor, did not request the death penalty but life imprisonment against the main accused, Colonel Mike Mikombe, sentenced to death by the court, who, however, did not retain the accusation of “crime against humanity” but that of “murder”.
He also requested sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years for the other five defendants.
Since September 5, the six soldiers (including two senior officers) of the Republican Guard have been on trial for a murderous operation launched against a religious sect which had called for demonstrations against the presence in the region of the UN, the regional force of East Africa and international NGOs.
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This operation, the latest official report of which shows 57 civilians killed, led to renewed tension in Goma, in the heart of a region prey to violence by armed groups and rebellions.
After the events, the government quickly announced arrests of soldiers and promised that justice would be done.
The trial, however, did not answer all the questions about the circumstances of the killing. The Minister of the Interior in particular, Peter Kazadi, indicated that the Republican Guard had intervened in retaliation for the lynching of a police officer by followers of the sect.
However, the witnesses, including two colonels, affirmed at the hearing that the operation had been launched before the death of the police officer.
The same witnesses also affirmed that before the killing, negotiations between the army and the faithful were progressing well, but that in the middle of the discussions, the soldiers opened fire on the unarmed followers.
“In Goma, we have reached the height of inhumanity”
The question remained whether Colonel Mikombe, the main accused, had given the order to shoot, and whether he had done so in response to orders or on his own initiative.
At trial, he suggested that he had been misled by a “operational order” of the 34th military region (North Kivu) presenting the followers of the sect as “supplementaries” of the M23 rebels and the Rwandan army – who occupy entire sections of the province – responsible for “facilitating the infiltration of the ‘enemy’ by ‘sowing trouble in the city’.
Subsequently, he asked at the hearing that the military governor of North Kivu, recalled for “consultations” in Kinshasa after the killing and since replaced in Goma by another officer, be heard by the court.
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“We cannot sully the unit that is the Republican Guard before this august court because we must protect the governor! »he said.