More than 80 people go on trial before a military court on Tuesday over the failed 2015 coup in Burkina Faso, including two top generals accused of masterminding the plot.
The case is being seen as a test of the credibility of justice in the former French colony which has been blighted by numerous coups and mutinies since gaining independence in 1960.
The two main defendants among the 84 on trial are generals Djibrill Bassole and Gilbert Diendere — key allies of former president Blaise Compaore who was chased from power in October 2014.
They are accused of involvement in a coup launched the following year by Compaore’s old presidential guard against the transitional government that took power after the veteran leader’s fall.
The elite unit known as the RSP briefly took the country’s leaders hostage before the coup was thwarted by street protesters and support from the army which attacked the plotters’ barracks.
Fourteen people died and 270 were injured in the unrest.
Coup leader Diendere, the former head of the RSP, and his co-defendants are accused of a range of crimes including undermining state security and murder.
Former foreign minister Bassole is also accused of treason over a recording of him reportedly telling the speaker of parliament in neighbouring Ivory Coast of his support for the coup plot.
All risk heavy penalties, including the death sentence, according to judicial sources.
Security will be high for the opening of what is expected to be a lengthy trial, with hundreds of members of the security forces at the court and its environs, according to security sources.
Christophe Lompo, the deputy secretary general of the ABCE, an association set up for victims of the attempted coup, said the trial “would give them hope that they can heal their wounds and seek reconciliation”.
It should be an opportunity for those in the dock to “admit their crimes and demand forgiveness from the people”, he added.
– ‘We want the truth told’ –
“We are hoping for the light to be shed, the truth to be told and for damages and compensation to be given to relatives of the victims and to those injured,” ABCE president Honore Sawadogo added.
The Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (MBDHP) described the case as a “life-size test of the credibility of the Burkinabe judiciary”, often accused of being under the control of those in power.
Bassole’s party, the New Alliance for Faso (NAFO), denounced what it said was the “government’s stranglehold on the military tribunal”.
“Too many unfair and arbitrary decisions have been made against me in flagrant violation of my rights for me to be able to have confidence in military justice,” Bassole himself said in an interview with the private newspaper Le Pays on Tuesday.
Diendere has hired five lawyers for the case, according to a member of his entourage, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He is ready for this trial, he is ready for everything to come out,” he said.
“This is also a trial for Burkina Faso… it is through this that the people will test our judiciary.”
Diendere has called for senior army officials to appear as witnesses in the case, along with current president Roch Marc Christian Kabore and transitional leader Michel Kafando, according to judicial sources.
Some analysts say the trial could also shed light on other non-resolved cases in Burkina Faso, such as the assassination of Thomas Sankara in 1987 or journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998, where the names of Diendere or Campaore’s presidential guard often come up.