KINSHASA – Dozens of legislators in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have attacked President Joseph Kabila over the trial, opening on Wednesday, of opposition leader Moise Katumbi who intends to contest upcoming elections.
Katumbi and six others, including an American national, are to go on trial before the Supreme Court of Justice, his lawyer Mumba Gana said.
They face charges of "harming domestic security", according to a court document seen by AFP.
Katumbi is accused of recruiting and arming mercenaries after falling out politically with Kabila in late 2015.
A wealthy businessman, Katumbi has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 and cannot return without fear of arrest as he has been convicted in a separate case involving alleged property fraud.
In a letter to Kabila, 50 pro-Katumbi MPs and senators lashed the trial as "nothing but a shame for the highest authority of the state, which you embody."
"Hatred for political adversaries, personal ambition or thirst for power cannot authorise judicial harassment against a citizen," the letter, published by the DRC media, said.
It added: "It is difficult to believe in the sincerity of your declarations about the holding of democratic elections in our country on December 23… so long as you have not put an end to all the fake scandals concocted against Moise Katumbi."
The trial comes in the run-up to the period, from July 24 to August 8, for declaring candidacies to the elections.
Katumbi, 53, a former governor of the mineral-rich region of Katanga, has declared he will return to the country to file his bid despite the threat of arrest.
Kabila, a former soldier, has been in power since 2001 when he took over from his assassinated father.
Presiding over a government widely criticised as corrupt and incompetent, he was constitutionally due to quit office in December 2016 at the end of his second elected mandate.
But he has remained in power until a successor is elected, provoking street protests that have been violently repressed resulting in several deaths.
Whether he will run again has become a toxic issue in the highly volatile country.
A third element has made things even more unpredictable – former warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who has been acquitted of war crimes charges in The Hague.
It remains unclear whether he intends to stage a political comeback – and if he faces prosecution if he comes back.