Hung out to die?

The South African Star , South Africa
Aug 24 2004

Hung out to die?
August 24, 2004

By Beauregard Tromp and Sapa-AFP

Nick du Toit has admitted that he recruited personnel and took charge
of logistics for an attempted coup bid in Equatorial Guinea.

The South African’s admission came on the first day of his trial in
Malabo, the capital of the small central African state, along with 17
other alleged putschists who have been charged with plotting to oust
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

“I wasn’t part of the operational group because my task was
logistics; that’s to say, getting vehicles (to the airport),” Du Toit
said yesterday when he was returned to the courtroom on his own after
an adjournment.

Du Toit – on trial with seven other South Africans, six Armenians and
four Equatorial Guinean defendants – said he agreed to take part in
the scheme because he was promised “a large amount of money”.

Questioned by Attorney-General José Olo Obono, the South African said
he had accepted the job at the request of Simon Mann, the alleged
leader of 70 other suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe. This
group was allegedly due to join those in Equatorial Guinea to carry
out the coup.

In a shock announcement yesterday, the state prosecutor sought the
death penalty for Du Toit and prison terms ranging from 26 to 86
years for the other defendants.

The head of the official South African observer mission to the trial,
Moketedi Mpshe, said he was shocked at the call for the death
penalty, which seemed to contradict assurances given by Obiang to
President Thabo Mbeki that none of the accused would be executed.

Obiang had also told the French magazine Jeune Afrique Intelligent:
“The death penalty can be applied here only if a crime has been
carried out, not if the accused was stopped when he was only in the
planning stage.”

Mbeki’s spokesperson, Bheki Khumalo, said last night: “Let us allow
the due process of the law to take its course, reach its logical
conclusion and take it from there.”

Legal watchdogs have, however, expressed fears that if the government
decides to intervene only after the death penalty has been passed, it
might be too late to prevent its being carried out.

South African officials have been told that the trial would be
completed and sentence passed this week, leaving little time for

Handcuffed and in leg-irons, the accused were brought by military
vehicles to a conference hall in Banapa, a suburb of Malabo, which
has been turned into a makeshift courtroom for the trial.

About 100 people, including two of the suspected South African
mercenaries’ wives, human rights activists and foreign diplomats,
were in the public gallery for the trial.

Although Du Toit’s wife, Belinda, had complained before that the
mercenaries were in bad shape, an American diplomat present, Dan
Vernon, told Voice of America that the accused “appear to be

“All 14 of the expatriates have beards at this point, but they appear
to be in good health,” Vernon said.

“I noticed that Nick du Toit, the alleged leader of the group,
appeared extremely composed and chatted with the accused sitting on
either side of himself on occasion.”

The South African government’s observer mission, which was originally
to be eight-strong but dwindled to four, missed the opening of the
trial and spent yesterday in Libreville, Gabon, because of delays in
flights from Johannesburg.

“We will only be able to get a flight to Malabo at 7am tomorrow
morning,” Mpshe said yesterday.

But Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said
another team of officials, led by South Africa’s ambas- sador to
Gabon, Samuel Monaisi, was monitoring the trial to ensure it was
“transparent, fair and just”.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is on record as
saying she would intervene diplomatically if a death sentence is

Meanwhile the Equatorial Guinean government seems to have reneged on
a promise to the South African government to allow South African
journalists and international lawyers to attend the trial.

The International Bar Association, based in London, said last night
that one of its observers had been allowed to travel to Malabo but
another had been refused entry.

Equatorial Guinea’s attorney-general outlined the role of each of the
accused in the coup plot, also citing the names of exiled opposition
leader Severo Moto, accused of masterminding the coup, and British
businessmen Elie Khalil, Greg Wales and David Hurt, accused of
funding it, but he did not say what sentences they faced.

Spain has refused to extradite Moto, leading Malabo to recall its
ambassador to Madrid and threaten to break off diplomatic relations.

Du Toit’s lawyer, Fernando Mico, called for seven years’ prison for
his client, saying: “There was no conspiracy, given that no weapons
were found in their possession.”

Lawyer Polciano Mbomio, pleading on behalf of six Armenian
defendants, asked for charges against them to be dropped, and called
Obono’s summary “narrative fiction”.

The four Equatorial Guineans were not implicated in the alleged coup
plot until the court case got under way yesterday.

The South African and Armenian suspects have been held at Malabo’s
notorious Black Beach prison since March.

Why observers are worried

The trial judges report to President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The government appointed legal representation for the accused at the
last minute, and did not allow them to have their own lawyers.

The prosecution is allowed to use confessions extracted by torture.

Court proceedings are held in Spanish, charges are put in Spanish and
there is no translation.

The trial started even though a South African government delegation
sent to make sure that it was free and fair had not arrived.

The South African government says it will allow the case to reach its
conclusion before it will act. However, its policy to intervene only
after the imposition of the death penalty proved to be ill-timed in
the case of Mariette Bosch, who was executed in secret by Botswana in

The Equatorial Guinean attorney-general called for the death penalty
despite earlier assurances by Nguema that the men would not be

SA’s Constitutional Court regards the right to life, as contained in
the constitution, as so important that it has ruled that even a
non-South African may not be extradited to another country to face
capital charges, unless an undertaking is given by that country that
the death sentence will not be imposed.

What Amnesty says of the country

German Eugen Nershz, one of the 15 foreigners arrested in connection
with the coup attempt, died on March 17, supposedly of cerebral
malaria. But Amnesty International has said he died “apparently as a
result of torture”.

The trial of 67 men sentenced to long jail terms after being
convicted of involvement in a previous alleged coup was unfair and
their convictions were based on statements made under torture.

They are being held in harsh conditions at the Black Beach prison,
crammed together in small, dangerously overcrowded cells. In March,
two prisoners were transferred to hospital. One had a broken rib as a
result of being beaten.

Amnesty International further noted that it had happened before that
the Equatorial Guinean government had “invented” plots to clamp down
on the opposition. In 2002, several members of political parties were
held for exercising their right to freedom of expression or for
membership of opposition groups.

Despite a partial amnesty in August 2002, more than 30 prisoners are
being held in conditions tantamount to torture after being convicted
on the basis of confessions extracted under torture.