DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has pardoned at least 26 men, including Eddy Kapend, who were convicted of planning the assassination of former President Laurent Kabila in 2001.
In a presidential ordinance read on State television this weekend, “detainees who have been in prison for 20 years may be eligible for a presidential pardon.”
The ordinance further said Tshisekedi’s action was out of “humanity, compassion and national reconciliation.”
Among the 28 survivors who benefited from the presidential pardon, in addition to Colonel Eddy Kapend, are Nono Lutula (ex-special adviser on security) and Leta Mangasa (former head of the National Intelligence Agency).
On 16 January 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated in the Presidential Palace in Kinshasa, reportedly by one of his soldiers as he met with his economic advisor.
Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph Kabila, was later sworn in as President of the DRC on 26 January 2001 in a formal ceremony.
In spite of a long investigation carried out in early 2001 by a specially established Commission of Inquiry and a lengthy trial, the exact circumstances of former President Kabila’s assassination remain contentious.
The Commission of Inquiry’s report alleged that one of Laurent Kabila’s bodyguards, Lieutenant Rachidi Muzele, fired the shots which killed him.
One of Kabila’s bodyguards shot Rachidi in the leg as the latter ran towards a wall of the presidential palace to escape from the scene.
Kapend, who served as Kabila’s ADC, then found a helpless Rachidi before shooting him dead.
The report asserted that the RCD-G rebel group was responsible for planning the assassination with the support of regional governments with support from foreigners.
Arrests began immediately after the assassination and included other presidential bodyguards, members of the armed forces, members of the security services and at least 45 civilians.
Many soldiers and civilians were arrested in connection with the assassination, including the late President Laurent Kabila’s aide-de-camp, Colonel Eddy Kapend and General Nawej Yav, a close associate of Colonel Kapend.
In March 2002, a military tribunal formally charged Colonel Kapend and General Nawej Yav with conspiracy and the murder of the late Laurent Kabila.
The Military Court trial was put on hold for a few months but was resumed later in 2002.
The chief prosecutor of the trial called for the death penalty for more than one hundred of the accused and sentences ranging from two to fifteen years imprisonment for the rest.
Some have since died in prison while others escaped to Sweden.
The pardoning of Kapend comes at a time of bad blood between Tshisekedi and his predecessor Kabila.
Tshisekedi, who will in February 2021 assume the position of chair African Union, has for the last few months been holding meetings with political leaders and civil society to free himself from the tight grip of former president Joseph Kabila and his Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) coalition.
DRC’s Catholic Church said Martin Fayulu won the 2018 presidential race but Kabila and Tshisekedi signed a secret deal that allowed the latter to take power with strings attached.
According to the terms of the deal, Tshisekedi and Kabila were to agree on major appointments of judicial and security officials and the incumbent was mandated to support a pro-Kabila candidate in the 2023 presidential elections.
However, Tshisekedi recently appointed three top judges without consulting Kabila’s group and fired army officers loyal to Kabila.
This set off a chain of events that threatens to dismember the ruling coalition.
Tshisekedi claims his plans to implement reforms in key sectors of the economy have been sabotaged by the secret deal with Kabila, turning his presidency into a nightmare.
Tshisekedi has since appointed a Senator woo opposition leaders to his side for a Parliamentary majority that would give Tshisekedi a strong hand to run the country without pressure from Kabila.
During his reign, Kabila was asked if he would pardon Kapend among other prisoners considering that the outcome of the trial was contested as unfair.
“In the United States, two or three presidents have been assassinated,” said Kabila in response.
“How many have been pardoned? Democracy also means justice. The case is in the hands of the courts. I am not the president of Supreme Court or chief prosecutor,” he added.
“So I don’t what to influence the decision of DRC justice system.”