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Doubts Persist Over Fairness of Equatorial Guinea's Coup Trial


The defense lawyer for a group of Equatorial Guineans who stood trial with British mercenary Simon Mann over a failed coup has expressed doubts about the process and outcome of the trial. The concerns, expressed the day after the sentencing in the case, add to those of international human rights groups. Mann was sentenced to 34 years in jail. Brent Latham has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Fabian Nsue Nguema, the defense lawyer for six Equatorial Guineans who stood trial with British mercenary Simon Mann, says that the trial was marked by numerous irregularities and human rights violations.

He continues to maintain the innocence of his clients, and says that government prosecutors did not do enough to establish that the Guineans conspired with Mann in a 2004 coup plot designed to take control of the oil-rich nation.

Nsue Nguema says the Guineans were convicted even though the arms they were accused of hoarding were never found. He added that the defendants had been forced into confessions against their will.

The Equatorial Guineans were sentenced to between one and six years. A Lebanese-born man Mohamed Salaami was jailed for 18 years, for being Mann's main accomplice.

Other foreigners, including South Africans, were also sentenced to long jail terms in previous trials related to the same botched coup attempt.

Human rights watch-dog Amnesty International has criticized the process of the recently concluded trial, especially concerning the Guinean defendants. In a statement released Monday, London-based Amnesty claimed at least two of the prisoners had been tortured into confessing.

Nsue Nguema said inside the courtroom, the Guineans were treated like terrorists. He says that they were forced to sit for hours without being allowed to move. Nor did they have access to food or water.

Nsue Nguema, who is also the secretary-general of the opposition Popular Union party, says that the treatment of the Guineans varied greatly from that provided to Mann. He says Mann had been transferred from prison to a luxury hotel during the trial, and was given expensive food.

Nsue Nguema expressed concern that Mann had been tricked by authorities into cooperating in exchange for promises of a deal. He said the way Mann confessed to everything he was accused of may have been evidence of such an understanding.

During the trial, Mann described himself as an "employee," and named accomplices he said were the bosses of the operation. Among those implicated by Mann was Mark Thatcher, son of a former British prime minister, and exiled Equatorial Guinean politician Severo Moto.

The judge declared the case against Thatcher and other accused conspirators to be open. Thatcher, who is believed to be residing in Spain, has said that while he was involved in financing the group for what he believed were security operations, he knew nothing of the planned coup. He was fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for unknowingly helping to finance the plot.

A Lebanese businessman described by Mann as the other financial backer of the group, Ely Calil, is also being sought for extradition and trial. In an interview published in a British newspaper Tuesday, Calil denied any wrongdoing, and said Mann's testimony was in his words "pure fantasy" concocted by Guinean authorities for political reasons.

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