Faith in DRC Justice Bolstered After High Profile Case

Conviction of top Lubumbashi official’s son for murder restores some trust in a judiciary prone to corruption and political interference.

Faith in DRC Justice Bolstered After High Profile Case

Conviction of top Lubumbashi official’s son for murder restores some trust in a judiciary prone to corruption and political interference.

On the morning of January 4, residents of Lubumbashi woke up to news that all was not well in the city.

Some young people had spent the night together at a disco. Among them was Ali Mohammed, the son of a prominent politician in the city, and his friend Tony Grigorakis.

Coming back from the disco in the early hours of the morning, Mohammed turned a gun on his friend and killed him. He was immediately arrested and taken before a military tribunal to be tried.

The ensuing trial heard how Grigorakis was killed because of a dispute over how to divide money that was earned through the sale of minerals. Grigorakis was the director of operations for a mining company that works in Kolwezi, 320 kilometres north-west of Lubumbashi.

Those that witnessed his arrest, and closely followed the trial, did not believe that he would be found guilty – a reflection of the lack of trust that people have in the Congolese judicial system.

As the son of Thérèse Maloba Ngoy, the provincial director of the national institute for social security, many people presumed Mohammed would be beyond the reach of the law.

But, on February 5, just over a month after he was arrested, Mohammed was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death - although, since there is a moratorium on executions in the country at the moment, it is unlikely that he will be executed.

The trial captivated the population of Lubumbashi. It was widely aired on local radio and television stations.

During the trial period, economic activity ground to a halt, since nobody wanted to miss anything. Many streets were deserted, apart from the occasional person walking along with a small portable radio clamped to his ear, so that he could follow the trial.

The room where the trial was taking place was crowded, with thousands of people all wanting to attend.

One of those who closely followed the trial, Dany Kilangu, was jubilant about the outcome.

“We wanted to attend the trial so that we could see whether or not it would unfold in an appropriate way,” he said. “It’s not every day that the child of a high-ranking official is arrested. I think that this is the first time I have seen the child of a rich family tried in public. This time we trust our justice and believe that a new era is beginning in our country.”

Such thoughts were echoed by Nadine Kilongozi, also from Lubumbashi.

“Today we can say that Congolese courts are not only targeting poor people,” she said. “Our magistrates proved that if they want to they can work without bribes. Considering how the trial happened, I encourage magistrates to continue in the same vein to render justice in a fair way, punishing perpetrators according to the law.”

Following the judgement, the president of Lubumbashi’s military tribunal, Major Gabriel Shungu Yuma, declared that the country was now in a period of “zero tolerance”.

“This principle does not only concern poor people, but the whole DRC population, whatever their social position might be,” he said. “We are here to render fair justice. We have no interest in acquitting those who commit crimes. The accused was tried by a military court because he used a weapon of war to kill. Everybody saw how the trial was conducted; there is little else to say.”

The Grigorakis family also expressed their satisfaction with the outcome of the trial.

Their lawyer, Dominique Lutumba, said, “We are happy with the verdict of this tribunal. We asked for the death penalty and it is this sentence that was rendered. One can say today that justice really exists in our country.”

Lawyers for Mohammed, however, say that they will appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court of Justice in Kinshasa. They maintain that the accused should have been tried by a civilian court rather than a military tribunal, given that he is not a soldier.

The high-profile nature of the case has also reinvigorated the debate over the death penalty, with many voices calling for Mohammed to be publicly executed.

“We wish to see the death penalty implemented against [Mohammed] since our country still hasn’t abolished it, Lubumbashi resident Thomas Monga said. “He killed and we want him to be killed in public so as to deter other criminals.”

Another local resident, Joël Ntumba, added, “The verdict is welcome, but if he is sent to jail we do not know if he will remain there forever because he could escape. Since he was sentenced to the death penalty, why not simply execute him?”

But lawyer Vincent Mavungu pointed out that it is unlikely Mohammed will be executed.

“Although the death penalty has not yet been abolished [from the statute books] in DRC, it is not applied for the time being,” he said. “All those who are condemned to this sentence end up in prison. They are not executed. The population should calm down because its wish is not going to happen or cannot be implemented.”

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