This time it’s relief. The twenty-six activists of the Party of African Peoples – Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI), the party of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who had been sentenced at first instance to two years in prison, have seen their sentences lightened appealing a two-year suspended sentence. The hearing was grueling – more than 10 hours – with a strong taste of deja vu.
The same cramped room of the courthouse, with the heat and humidity of a sauna, the same team of lawyers and the same defendants. Released for the occasion from the house of arrest and correction of Abidjan (MACA) where they are detained, they still appeared in civilian clothes: the prisoners do not wear a uniform. Only their handcuffs and their exhausted looks reminded us of their situation.
The audience was even larger than at the first trial. From the first minutes, the crowd that had come to support the defendants began to spill out of the room and press against the heavy, half-open wooden doors. The judge had to suspend the hearing, open the doors wide and install benches and plastic chairs outside. The last latecomers had to stay up and resolve not to see or hear anything: the magistrates have no microphone.
Before the Court, the twenty-six defendants – twenty-three men and three women – tirelessly repeated the same defence. All are accused of “public disorder” and all plead not guilty. It must be said that the file is thin. On February 24, these PPA-CI activists gathered in the wealthy neighborhood of Cocody Angré to show their support for Damana Pickass, one of their leaders.
Gathering does not make demonstration
The anti-terrorist cell that summoned him was “a study”, reminds the judge to one of the defendants who parade at the bar and was as such not conducive to gatherings. To which the interested party replies that the activists only wanted to greet Mr. Pickass to encourage him before his hearing, and that the rally is not a demonstration.
It is precisely on this term that the defense relies. ” Was there a demonstration on February 24? asks one of the lawyers, Mr.e Sylvain Tapi. ” No », answer all the defendants in turn. ” Was the public road occupied? Did the people gathered attack or insult the police? Did you learn that there was a ban [de rassemblement] in the area of the 7th installment? »
Here again, the answers are negative: no acts of violence, no slogans or placards, no material destruction. The defense ends up asking bluntly: Is it because you are a PPA-CI activist that you were arrested and brutalized? This time, the defendants acquiesce.
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