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US defendants in failed African coup cite coercion

Two Americans have told a court in DR Congo that they were forced to take part in an armed uprising in May

Two US citizens have told a court in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), that they took part in a failed coup in May because they were threatened with death if they refused to join. 

On May 19, armed men temporarily seized President Felix Tshisekedi’s office in Kinshasa after storming the home of Vital Kamerhe, the outgoing economy minister and candidate for speaker of the National Assembly. The group’s leader, Congolese politician Christian Malanga – who obtained US citizenship while living in exile – was killed by security forces during the clashes.

Six people were reportedly killed in the standoff, including two police officers who were assigned to protect Kamerhe.

Speaking on Friday for the first time since the trial began, the two US suspects – Marcel Malanga, who is Christian Malanga’s son, and Benjamin Zalman-Polun – said that they were threatened by the coup leader. 

Marcel explained that he traveled to the DRC at his father’s invitation and had no prior knowledge of the plot, stating: “I am American, I do not speak French or Lingala.” He added that it was his first visit to the central African nation. 

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FILE PHOTO: Congolese army soldiers board a vehicle in Democratic Republic of Congo.
US nationals involved in attempted coup in African state – army

“Dad had threatened to kill us if we did not follow his orders,” Marcel Malanga told the military court.

Zalman-Polun stated that while he was a long-time business associate of Christian Malanga, he did not take part in planning the coup attempt.

“I met Malanga in 2013 … he had never been so violent,” Zalman-Polun stated.

The hearings are set to continue on Monday. Malanga and Zalman-Polun are among more than 50 suspects on trial for their alleged roles in the failed bid to overthrow the DRC government. The defendants also include UK, Canadian, and Belgian citizens. They face counts of criminal conspiracy, murder, terrorism, and other charges.

On Friday, during the hearing in Kinshasha, Judge Freddy Ehume said the actions of the Americans were “punishable by death.” The open-air proceedings were shown live on television.

During the coup attempt, Christian Malanga, a self-proclaimed problem-solver vowing to end the “corruption and political gridlock” in Kinshasa, live-streamed the standoff on Facebook.

READ MORE: Americans put on trial over failed African coup attempt

“We, the militants, are tired. We cannot drag on with Tshisekedi and Kamerhe, they have done too many stupid things in this country,” he declared in local language Lingala, according to a Reuters translation.

In March, the DRC lifted its moratorium on capital punishment, citing the need to purge the army of traitors and address a surge in terrorism.

Tshisekedi won a second term in December, winning 73% of votes.

July 08, 2024 at 06:34PM

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