- British citizen Simon Mann, accused of being a mercenary planning a coup, made his first court appearance today in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. If found guilty, Mr Mann could face execution.
Simon Mann was transported to the conference centre in an armoured vehicle wearing a grey prison suit. Security in Malabo is on high alert with armed soldiers deployed at the courtroom and snipers and armoured vehicles controlling the streets of the Equatoguinean capital. Also outside Malabo, soldiers are roaming the street and border controls and roadblocks have been strongly heightened.
Foreign journalists and international observers have been allowed in the courtroom following security checks this morning. However, cameras, shoes, bags, notebooks and pens had to be left at the entrance, with pen and paper being supplied by the court.
Mr Mann's lawyer is Equatoguinean Attorney José Pablo. Further, British Consul David Harries of the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria, is attending the court case on behalf of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, according to a press release from sources close to the Equatoguinean government.
The prosecution's case is that Mr Mann, a former SAS officer, was the leader of an alleged 2004 coup. The plot, according to the Equatoguinean government, was to oust dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema and install a regime headed by Equatoguinean exiled politician Severo Moto.
Several arrests were made in the case, and during earlier trials, testimonies supported the case of the prosecution. However, most witnesses had earlier been detained at the infamous Black Beach prison, famed for its heavy torture methods. Human rights groups therefore question whether testimonies could be trusted.
Mr Mann was detained in Zimbabwe four years ago, allegedly on his way to Equatorial Guinea with weapons and mercenaries to participate in a coup. The 55-year-old Briton lost his extradition appeal in a Zimbabwean High Court on 31 January this year.
Mr Mann was deported to Equatorial Guinea in early February, where he joined alleged coup plotters earlier convicted at Black Beach prison, including Nick Du Toit. Mr Du Toit and 14 men, including South Africans of the 32 Battalion, were arrested in Malabo, also in March 2004.
In November 2004, Mr Du Toit, a former member of South Africa's elite army Special Task Forces, was sentenced to 34 years for terrorism, crimes against the Equatorial Guinea head of state and illegal possession of arms and explosives. The South African "confessed" that he was the leader of the advance party of "the coup" and implicated Mr Mann as its architect. Mr Du Toit in court however held he had only "confessed" following heavy torture.
Exiled politician Severo Moto was sentenced to 63 years in absentia, while the other members of the Mr Du Toit crew were slapped with prison terms ranging from 24 to two years.
It is doubted whether Mr Mann stands a chance of a free and fair trial in Equatorial Guinea, where the judiciary is under political control and the government has established it as "a fact" that a coup was being planned in 2004. However, the government refutes these claims. "Simon Mann's trial will be free, fair and transparent and must be seen to be free, fair and transparent. The trial is underpinned by our unshaken democratic principles and the untainted judgment of a free and independent judiciary," according to a statement by the Equatoguinean Embassy in the UK.
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