A member of parliament, owner of a strategic mining company, was sentenced to death on Friday in Kinshasa by the military justice system on charges including "participation in the M23 insurrectionary movement" and "treason", in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The death penalty is often pronounced in the DRC, but has not been applied for 20 years and is systematically commuted to life imprisonment.
In August, the prosecution had requested life imprisonment for Édouard Mwangachuchu, 70, elected representative of Masisi, in the troubled province of North Kivu (eastern DRC).
The High Military Court did not grant any mitigating circumstances to the convicted man, who was not present at the pronouncement of the sentence, as observed by an AFP team. He was found guilty of "illegal possession of weapons and munitions of war", "participation in the M23 insurrectionary movement" and "treason", said General Robert Kalala, presiding judge of the High Court.
The M23, for "March 23rd Movement", is a predominantly Tutsi rebellion which, with the support of Rwanda according to Kinshasa, has seized vast swathes of territory in North Kivu since the end of 2021.
Mr. Mwangachuchu was arrested on March 1 in Kinshasa, held first in Makala, the Congolese capital's main prison, and then transferred to the Ndolo military prison, where the 30 or so hearings of his trial were held.
His co-defendant, Robert Muchamalirwa, a police captain prosecuted for "violation of orders", was acquitted and the court ordered his immediate release.
Mr. Mwangachuchu's defense, which had pleaded for acquittal, announced its intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. Speaking to the press, Me Thomas Gamakolo denounced the "iniquitous decision, motivated by considerations alien to the law".
According to him, it is "a trial based on ethnic hatred and deductions". "We have never been able to prove that Mr. Mwangachuchu has any links with Rwanda", but "because of his 'tutsity', we have established a presumption of guilt", said Mr. Gamakolo.
- Close ties with Rwanda -
"It is very difficult today in our country to live or exist as a Tutsi," lamented the lawyer.
The proceedings against Mr. Mwangachuchu were triggered when the M23 rebels, who had seized the mining town of Rubaya (North Kivu), were "dislodged by the local natives organized in a self-defense movement", explained the High Court.
The latter had then discovered a cache of weapons on the Bibatama site belonging to the Bisunzu mining company (SMB), owned by Mr. Mwangachuchu, it added during the reading of the verdict.
In its closing arguments, the defense had argued that the accused were "people calling themselves 'Hutu peasants' and members of the Nyatura armed group" who "claimed to have discovered a cache of weapons" on the mining site.
On Friday, the court also returned at length to a Covid test certificate produced by Mr. Mwangachuchu in Kigali in May 2021, arguing that this was proof of the Congolese MP's "close ties" with "Rwanda, the country that attacked the DRC".
It was also said that the minerals produced by his company were "sent to Rwanda" and that a document found in his safe indicated that he owned "real estate in Rwanda" and was "very concerned about the development of Rwanda".
During the trial, Mr. Mwangachuchu claimed to have been threatened by the M23 and Rwandan security authorities.
He had appeared ill and visibly weakened during the hearings. Requests for his provisional release on health grounds were rejected.