Congo's Former Justice Minister Rejects Conviction for Coup Plot

(Bloomberg) -- A former Republic of Congo justice minister dismissed his conviction for an alleged coup plot, after becoming the latest opponent of President Denis Sassou Nguesso to be handed a jail term.

A court in the capital, Brazzaville, on June 1 sentenced Jean-Martin Mbemba in absentia to 10 years in prison for plotting to overthrow Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for more than three decades. Two other defendants, Samba Mountou Loukossi and Armand Belge Boissy, received similar sentences, which came three weeks after former presidential candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko was jailed for 20 years on similar charges.

Mbemba’s conviction was based on “fabricated accusations,” he said by phone on Tuesday from Paris. “I regret ever having worked with Sassou Nguesso, but I think his time is up. He won’t be able to arrest everybody in Congo.”

Sassou Nguesso, 74, is facing growing opposition to his rule as growth in the oil-dependent economy collapsed over the past two years after crude prices slumped. There are currently more than 133 opposition members and civil-society leaders imprisoned in Brazzaville, according to the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights.

While Mbemba, Loukossi and Boissy were all convicted in absentia, six co-defendants, including the former director of police in Congo’s Pool region, were sentenced to imprisonment. Former education minister and presidential candidate Andre Okombi Salissa is awaiting trial for allegedly threatening state security, after being arrested in January.

“Congo has become a large prison,” Albert Mbella, head of the foreign affairs committee of Mokoko’s campaign team, said by phone from Paris. “Sadly the international community is doing nothing to help. Today most of us can’t go back to Congo for fear of arrest.”

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