DRC: Second Day of Trial for Commando Accused of May 19 Attacks

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The trial of individuals accused of orchestrating the attacks on May 19th resumed on Friday, June 14th, following a one-week hiatus. Held at the Ndolo military penitentiary, the proceedings involve fifty-one defendants charged with various serious crimes linked to the assault on the residence of Vital Kamerhe, the current President of the National Assembly. After the attack, the assailants retreated to the Palais de la Nation, which houses the offices of President Félix Tshisekedi. During Friday’s session, the defense attorneys presented their arguments before the tribunal.

The identification process for the accused continued, with charges including terrorism, illegal possession of war weapons, attempted assassination, criminal conspiracy, murder, and financing terrorism.

Among the defendants is Maguy Mata, the manager of the inn where Christian Malanga, identified as the leader of the assault on Kamerhe’s residence and the Palais de la Nation, had stayed. Malanga, who was killed during the operation, registered at the inn under the alias David Kumasamba using a false ID. Mata’s attorneys have requested her provisional release and demanded that the military vacate the inn.

The hearing saw defense lawyers for Zalman Polun Benjamin, one of three Americans on trial, requesting the annulment of all records from his previous interrogations. They argued for the invalidation of the proceedings against him, citing concerns over the accuracy of the translations provided by an interpreter who was not proficient in English, Benjamin’s native language. This, they claim, casts doubt on the validity of the statements attributed to him. Benjamin is accused of operating a drone during the attack on Kamerhe’s residence.

In addition, the defense team for Jean-Jacques Wondo, a Congolese-born Belgian military expert tasked with reforming the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), sought his provisional release on health grounds. They argued that Wondo is being denied access to his medications, physician, and necessary dietary requirements. Furthermore, they contested the tribunal’s jurisdiction over Wondo, asserting that he is a civilian and should not be tried in a military court.

The session was adjourned and is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, when the public prosecutor will respond to the defense’s arguments. The trial continues to draw significant attention as the DRC grapples with the legal and political ramifications of the attacks and the broader issues of justice and accountability in the country.


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