The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday pardoned 26 men who had been convicted of plotting the 2001 assassination of then-President Laurent Kabila. Former President Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards who took his own life shortly after.
Prosecutors in the case stated that Kabila’s closest advisor, Colonel Eddy Kapend, plotted the assassination as an attempted coup. He, along with about two dozen others, were sentenced to death in 2003 for the assassination. However, Kabila’s administration managed to retain power with the inauguration of President Kabila’s 26-year old son, Joseph Kabila, just 10 days later.
None of the death sentences were carried out, although some of those jailed have died in prison since their convictions.
Human rights groups and religious organizations strongly criticized the trial, stating that it was unfair. Former President Joseph Kabila had repeatedly been called to pardon the men, but he did not grant it. Current President, Félix Tshisekedi, a longtime opponent of President Joseph Kabila, peacefully transitioned to power in January 2019, the first non-violent transfer of power in the country in nearly 60 years. Despite recent moves to establish an African Court on Human and People’s Rights, tensions have been on the rise in recent weeks as political issues have intensified within the ruling coalition amid presidential threats to dissolve the national assembly.
President Tshisekedi stated that the pardons, which included a number of people convicted of other offences, was a step towards “humanity, pardon, justice and national reconciliation.”