A senior former rebel commander in the Central African Republic goes on trial Monday before the International Criminal Court, facing charges of torturing alleged opposition supporters as the country spiralled into sectarian violence.
Mahamat Said Abdel Kani faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the brutal 2013 persecution of residents in the capital Bangui, who were accused of supporting ousted president Francois Bozize.
One of the poorest countries in the world, the CAR spiralled into conflict in that year when Bozize was ejected by a rebel coalition called the Seleka, drawn largely from the Muslim minority.
The coup triggered a sectarian bloodbath between the Seleka and “anti-Balaka”, which means “anti-machete” forces, who were mainly Christian or animist and who backed Bozize.
Said, 52, prosecutors say, was a senior Seleka commander in charge of a police compound where alleged Bozize supporters were beaten and tortured after they were arrested.
Sometimes referred to as “colonel”, “chief” or “director”, Said oversaw the day-to-day operations of the compound which belonged to a police unit called the “Central Office for the Repression of Banditry” or OCRB, his arrest warrant said.
Said instructed subordinates to mistreat detainees for allegedly supporting Bozize or the anti-Balaka, subjecting them to the so-called “arbatachar” torture method to extract confessions, it added.
The technique involved tying a person’s elbows to their feet behind their backs, thereby placing them in an excruciatingly painful position which often caused permanent bodily damage.
Prisoners were kept in cramped conditions and even thrown in a small underground cell, only accessible through a hole in the floor of Said’s office at the OCRB headquarters in the capital, ICC prosecutors said.