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Equatorial Guinea begins trial of alleged coup leader

[JURIST] The trial of British national Simon Mann [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], accused of participating in a 2004 coup attempt against Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [BBC profile], began Tuesday in Malabo. Government officials charged [BBC report] Mann, a former Special Air Service officer who allegedly signed the contract for the coup, with crimes against the head of state, crimes against the government and crimes against the peace and independence of the state. The court could sentence him to death if he is convicted. Rights groups have suggested, as Amnesty International did for others charged with involvement [Amnesty report] in the plan, that the trial will not be fair, and the UK Foreign Office maintains that Equatorial Guinea has a poor human rights record and that its government controls the judiciary [Foreign Office country report]. Obiang stressed that the country will comply with international standards [The Times report] for the trial and that Mann would likely receive a lesser sentence, such as 30 years in prison, since he did not organize the coup. The court is expected to render a verdict on Thursday. CNN has more. The Mail & Guardian has local coverage.

A Zimbabwean court sentenced [JURIST report] Mann in 2004 for plotting the coup after Zimbabwean authorities arrested him and about 60 suspected mercenaries earlier that year. Authorities secretly deported [JURIST report] him to Equatorial Guinea in February 2008 before his appeal process against extradition in Zimbabwe was complete. His lawyers argued that Mann would face torture and possibly the death penalty if extradited, but the Zimbabwe High Court ruled against his appeal [JURIST report] in January, finding that there was enough evidence of his involvement to carry out extradition and that the defense failed to show a sufficient likelihood of torture. In March, Mann accused Sir Mark Thatcher [BBC profile; JURIST report] of involvement in the plan. A South African court has since sentenced Thatcher [BBC report] to a $500,000 fine and a four-year suspended prison sentence.

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