Pretoria - Security was tight at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday as 20 men accused of plotting to overthrow the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government appeared in court.
Armed policemen guarded them as they took their place in the dock, and the first row of seats in the public gallery was kept open “in case things got out of hand”, a security official said.
Family members of the men were allowed entry only just before proceedings started.
But the trial, which has been set down for more than a month, could not get under way as 14 of the accused are launching two applications.
One entails asking Judge Billy Mothle to review and set aside a decision by the National Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise a trap set for the alleged plotters.
The second was whether or not the trap was set up in accordance with the law, and whether evidence by several State witnesses about agents who had infiltrated the group was admissible.
If the court rules in favour of the group and finds that the State overstepped boundaries in setting the trap, it could be the end of the case.
The men are alleged to be members of a dissident organisation in the DRC known as “the Union of Nationalists for Renewal”. They were allegedly dissatisfied with leadership in the DRC under President Joseph Kabila and planned to stage a coup in that country.
One of them is Etienne Kabila Taratibu, who claims to be the president’s half-brother.
The men face a charge of engaging in mercenary activity between September 2012 and last February. They allegedly “recruited” two agents – who infiltrated their organisation – to give them specialised military training and to provide them with an arsenal of weapons.
The arsenal included 5 000 AK-47 automatic assault rifles, 1 000 grenades, 100 machine guns, air-to-air missiles, satellite phones and two-way radios.
The alternative charge is that they contravened the Foreign Military Assistance Act.
The second charge is conspiracy to murder. They will plead to these charges if their applications fail next week.
The accused told Judge Mothle their treatment while awaiting trial had been inhumane and that they were locked up for 23 hours a day. He ordered an investigation.