Congo-Brazzaville: General Mokoko sentenced to 20 years in prison

The former presidential candidate of 2016 was sentenced on Friday evening by the Brazzaville Court of Appeal to 20 years in prison. Same sentence for his seven co-defendants.

The former chief of staff was convicted of interfering with the internal security and illegal possession of weapons and ammunition.

It is the closed face that Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko has welcomed this verdict, watching the president of the court in the eyes, impassive, he who has hardly expressed himself during this trial.

The 71-year-old former Chief of Staff quickly left the courtroom to be taken back to the cell, still long enough to exchange a slight, disillusioned smile with his lawyers and squeeze the hand of some relatives.

Very few reactions in the room. It must be said that access was strictly controlled.

The seven co-defendants general, six French and Congolese presented as mercenaries got sentenced to the same punishment, but in absentia because they were not present at the hearing. All were found guilty of having jointly attempted in 2006, 2007, 2015 or 2016 to undermine the internal security of the state, “either to destroy or change the government or by encouraging citizens to arming against the Congolese state”.

All will also owe a symbolic franc to the state party and civil party in this case as damages. It took only two hours to the court to deliberate on this afternoon, no surprise there either, since neither the General Mokoko, nor his lawyers spoke.

So, there was no adversarial debate at this trial, the evidence presented by the prosecutor could not be discussed and only the accusation was expressed on Friday morning during the oral proceedings.

Quick Trial and Silence Strategy

Congolese justice, sometimes accused of having dragged its feet in this case, finally offered an express trial to General Mokoko. Four days of hearings in total, three witnesses at the bar and two hours of deliberations to sentence eight defendants to 20 years in prison.

A revealing speed of a “file without proof”, considers Master Tricaud one of the French lawyers of the general. The fault of the strategy of silence chosen by the defence retorts the accusation. “What show did we attend? The show, let me say it, a little pitiful of a dignitary of the Republic who will have refused to explain to his judges,” tamed Master Devillers, representing the Congolese state.

“There is eel under rock” added the prosecutor during his indictment. For him, this silence is an “admission of guilt”. During his final argument, Mr. Okoko, one of the Congolese state’s lawyers, decided to insist. “It’s not an empty but consistent file,” he said quoting excerpts from minutes. “It is necessary that those who follow this file know what is in it, he pleaded, if not we will have overflown it.”

A trial also marked by several observers by “hesitations”: those of a witness, for example, Colonel Elie Atipo, who on Tuesday refused to speak, explaining having received “instructions” from his superiors not to intervene. Hesitations also on how to deal with the private press, which was first denied access to the courtroom before finally being admitted to cover the trial.

“A political trial” for his supporters

For Maître Jean-Philippe Esseau, one of General Mokoko’s lawyers, if a verdict has been handed down, justice has not been. “We consider that Jean-Michel Marie Mokoko cannot be prosecuted under his immunity. He is detained at the prison in an arbitrary manner. This decision has no value. The lawyer assures that this strategy of silence “was not an admission of guilt”, but that it is “the principles of the Republic.”

The general’s lawyers, who publicly reject a political trial, have already lodged an appeal with the UN committee on arbitrary detentions. They also have three days to decide to appeal in cassation

This verdict is not a surprise, reacted Jean-Paul Bouiti, the spokesperson for the J3M component, formed in 2016 to support the presidential candidacy of General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko. Even if, he adds, “20 years is a lot”.

“In principle, we expected it,” he says, the case was not in doubt. We assume it because the issues here are collective, if not national, issues. Even if people have tried to deny that this trial is a political trial, it is one, with all the legal cover that has been put in place to try to bring this trial for a common law trial. It is obvious that with a 20-year sentence in his criminal record, any political future is denied to General Mokoko. That was fundamentally the goal: to remove a political opponent who had managed to gain popular legitimacy in the last election.”

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