A court in Equatorial Guinea handed down sentences of up to 96 years to more than 130 people convicted of involvement in what the authorities say was an attempted coup.
The jail terms, ranging from three to 96 years, were read out on state television by Pascual Bacale Nfono, chief judge at the court in Bata, the country’s economic capital.
The convictions, announced late Friday, relate to what the government says was an attempted coup in December 2017.
Those convicted included foreign nationals from Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon and France, many of whom were tried in their absence.
The heaviest sentences, of 96 years, were handed down to three Equatorial Guinean nationals accused of being the masterminds of the coup plot.
They are: opposition figure Bienvenido Ndong Ondo (alias Ricky); and two former magistrates, Martin Obiang Ondo and Ruben Clemente Nguema Engonga.
All three exiled in Spain, they lead the Movement for the Liberation of Equatorial Guinea Third Republic (MLGE III R).
Defence lawyer Ponciano Mbomio Nvo said the sentences had been decided well in advance of the start of the proceedings. “This trial was just staged,” he told reporters.
Other exiled opposition figures living in Europe were also convicted in absentia. Salomon Abeso Ndong, who now lives in Britain, received a 59-year jail term.
The same term was handed down to opposition figure Severo Moto Nsa, who is now based in Spain.
He has already received a jail sentence of more than 100 years in a previous case, when he was convicted of having been behind a 2004 coup bid.
The authorities announced in January 2018 that they had foiled a coup plot.
They said a group of foreign mercenaries had planned to attack President Teodoro Obiang Nguema on December 24 at his palace at Koete Mongomo, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the borders with Gabon, Guinea and Cameroon.
Three days later, on December 27, Cameroonian police arrested around 30 armed men at their border with Equatorial Guinea.
At the same time, the authorities in Equatorial Guinea made a wave of arrests. They also issued international arrest warrants for suspects abroad whom they accused of being behind the coup bid.
More than half of those convicted are still abroad and were sentenced in their absence — including five French nationals.
One of the French defendants convicted was Dominique Calace de Ferluc, who is close to the opposition movement. He received a 59-year jail sentence.
The others convicted included people from Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon.
The court acquitted 21 of the defendants and ordered their immediate release.
Former insiders among convicted
Among those in court for the trial was the country’s former ambassador to Chad, Enrique Nsue Anguesomo, who received a 50-year jail term.
The president’s former security chief, Julian Ondo Nkumu, received a 21-year sentence.
The trial began in March and two magistrates and two military prosecutors – named by presidential decree – joined the civilian judges in court.
During the trial, defence lawyers’ called for their clients’ release on the grounds of a lack of evidence and complained of procedural “irregularities” in the case.
Some of the defendants said in court that they had been tortured during their questioning.
Nguema, 76, is now Africa’s longest-serving leader having himself seized power in a 1979 putsch.
Critics accuse him of brutal repression, election fraud and corruption.
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