OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The trial began Tuesday for 84 people accused of masterminding a 2015 coup attempt in Burkina Faso, with the West African nation’s capital under tight security.
Former presidential aides Gen. Gilbert Diendere and Gen. Djibril Bassole are among those facing a military tribunal. Hundreds of security forces deployed around the court building.
The trial, however, was suspended by the military tribunal president Tuesday afternoon after defense lawyers walked out of the court, arguing against irregularities in the trial, and that a military tribunal wasn’t independent enough to judge the accused.
Diendere briefly took power after the presidential guard under his command staged a coup of the transitional government in September 2015. He stepped down days later under pressure from the regional bloc, Burkina Faso’s military and protesting citizens. He and others now face life in prison for charges including conspiracy against the state, murder and beatings.
Bassole, a former foreign affairs minister, is accused of treason. Many of the others accused are former soldiers in the presidential guard.
“This trial is not only a historic event, it is truly another victory against the retrograde and anti-democratic forces who have always plotted to prevent truth to prevail,” said the civil society organization Citizen Broom, which played a key role in the resistance against the attempted coup.
The transition government was set up after President Blaise Compaore’s ouster in a public uprising in 2014, ending nearly 30 years in power. A year later, as Burkina Faso prepared to transfer power to an elected head of state, the former presidential guards arrested transitional President Michel Kafando and several other officials, unhappy that Compaore supporters couldn’t run in the election.
The unrest that quickly forced the coup leaders to surrender killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 200 others.
“There should not be revenge but only justice,” Prosper Farama, a rights activist and lawyer for some of the victims, said of the trial.
Many in Burkina Faso have questioned the military tribunal’s ability to deliver a fair trial since its members are appointed by the ministry of defense and head of state. The military courts are outside the control of the body responsible for overseeing the independence of the judiciary, rights group Amnesty International said.
“We are not going to attend a trial that doesn’t respect the minimum of legal proceedings,” said a defense lawyer, Benao Batis, before all defense lawyers left the courtroom.
After the lawyers left, the president of the tribunal Saidou Ouedraogo announced the suspension of the trial. It wasn’t clear when it would resume.
Some of the victims burst into tears as they learned the trial has been suspended and no date has been set up for its reopening.
“The president should have continued with the proceedings to set up the jury before suspending the trial,” said Seraphin Some, a lawyer for the victims.
Earlier, Chrizogome Zougmore, chairman of a local human rights group, had said: “This is a real test for the credibility of the justice system in our country always accused of favoring the political system in place.”