Judge in DR Congo ‘coup’ trial: Acts punishable by death

Around 50 people, including three US citizens and a Belgian, went on trial on Friday in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over what the army described as an attempted coup.

Judge Freddy Ehume of the Kinshasa-Gombe military court stated that the actions of the three Americans were “punishable by death.” The defendants, Marcel Malanga and Taylor Christian Thomson, both 21, and 36-year-old Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, were the first to face the court.

“The acts are punishable by death,” Judge Ehume told the Americans, who appeared in blue and yellow prison uniforms. The trial took place under a large tent at Ndolo military prison, attended by western diplomats, journalists, and lawyers, starting at around 11:40 am (1040 GMT).

The alleged coup attempt occurred on May 19, when armed men attacked the home of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe before moving to the nearby Palais de la Nation, where President Felix Tshisekedi’s offices are located. The assailants were reportedly filmed waving the flag of Zaire, the country’s name during Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorship, and chanting against Tshisekedi’s government.

The DRC army announced on national television that security forces had thwarted “an attempted coup d’etat.”

Suspected Accomplice

The alleged plot was led by Christian Malanga, a Congolese man and “naturalised American,” who was killed by security forces, according to army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge. Malanga’s son, a US citizen, was one of the three Americans on trial.

Ekenge reported that around 40 assailants of various nationalities had been arrested, and four, including Malanga, were killed. The government condemned the incident as an attempt to “destabilise” the country’s institutions.

Among the accused are four women and at least one Belgian national, Jean-Jacques Wondo. Wondo, a military expert of Congolese origin, was arrested on May 21, accused of being an “accomplice of Christian Malanga” by providing transport for the alleged coup plotters, according to his lawyer, Masingo Shela. Wondo has denied the charges and vowed to defend himself.

A court document lists a total of 53 defendants, including the deceased Christian Malanga. The charges include “attack, terrorism, illegal possession of weapons and munitions of war, attempted assassination, criminal association, murder, and financing of terrorism.”

Scroll to Top