DRC army officer receives death sentence over the killing of 57 protesters

In his defence, Mikombe told the court that he was misled by an operational order that identified the sect members as proxies of M23 rebels and the Rwandan army.

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A military court on Monday, October 2 sentenced a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) army officer to death after he was found guilty of killing protesters.

Colonel Mike Mikombe received the hefty sentence over the August killing of more than 50 protesters in the eastern city of Goma.

The court also handed 10-year prison terms to three other army officers, while two were acquitted.

In his defence, Colonel Mikombe told the court that he was misled by an operational order that identified the sect members as proxies of M23 rebels and the Rwandan army.

The lawyers representing the officers have, however, said they will appeal the court verdict.

Although the death penalty has often been handed down in DRC, it has not been applied for 20 years, systematically converted to a life imprisonment.

The six soldiers had been on trial since September 5, following a deadly crackdown against a religious sect that had called for demonstrations against the United Nations’ eastern DRC.

As a result of the crackdown, 57 people were killed, leading to renewed tensions in the North Kivu capital of Goma. The area has been plagued by violence by armed groups.

More than 140 civilians including around 30 minors were also arrested during the August 30 army operation.

Anti-United Nations (UN) protesters arrested during a military operation to prevent their demonstrations in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on August 30, 2023. PHOTO/COURTESY

– More questions than answers-

But even as the soldiers have been sentenced, the case has left more questions than answers about the killing.

For example, Interior Minister Peter Kazadi said that the crackdown started after the lynching of a police officer by members of the said religious sect.

However, witnesses – including two army colonels who are also members of the sect and local residents – say the deadly crackdown began before the police officer died.

The witnesses also say that negotiations between the army and the sect were progressing well, but the military suddenly went berserk and opened fire on unarmed sect members.

The other question is whether Mikombe gave the order to shoot, or he received “orders from above”.

‘I was misled’

In his defence, Mikombe told the court that he was misled by an operational order that identified the sect members as proxies of M23 rebels and the Rwandan army.

The M23 has seized large swathes of territory in North Kivu province since 2021.

Independent UN experts, the Kinshasa government and several Western nations including the United States and France accuse Rwanda of actively backing the Tutsi-led M23 — claims that Rwanda denies.

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