Ex-army chief and opposition presidential candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko reacts during his trial at a court in Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Picture: REUTERS/ROCH BOUKA
Ex-army chief and opposition presidential candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko reacts during his trial at a court in Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Picture: REUTERS/ROCH BOUKA

A court in the Republic of Congo sentenced opposition presidential candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko to 20 years in jail for an alleged coup plot.

The Criminal Court in the capital, Brazzaville, also handed down a similar sentence to seven co-defendants, six French and a Congolese, AFP reported, citing Court President Christian Oba.

"The criminal court declares Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko guilty of the facts charged to him," the news agency quoted Oba as saying. Mokoko, 71, has denied the charges and his lawyer Eric-Yvon Ibouanga said by phone his case was a political trial.

Mokoko was jailed in June 2016 on charges of threatening state security, three months after he challenged President Denis Sassou Nguesso in elections. Mokoko is suspected of plotting to overthrow Sassou Nguesso after a video dating from 2007 surfaced during the election campaign in which he was seen discussing a coup plot. Mokoko, who served as presidential adviser on security matters for more than a decade, denies the charges.

Three-Decade Rule

Sassou Nguesso has been president of the oil-producing central African nation since 1997. There are currently more than 133 opposition members and civil society leaders imprisoned in Brazzaville, according to the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights.

Clement Mierassa, a former minister of industrial development and leader of the opposition Congolese Social Democratic Party, said the accusations against Mokoko stemmed from a plan by Sassou Nguesso to have his son, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, succeed him as the country’s ruler. Other political opponents who have been jailed included former presidential candidate Andre Okombi Salissa, he said.

"Mokoko is no longer an ordinary political party leader jailed for having challenged Sassou Nguesso," said Andrea Ngombet, a Congolese political activist based in Paris. "He is now a symbol of resistance against tyranny not only in Congo but across the region."

Bloomberg