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Defense: Evidence is weak in Central African Republic trial

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A defense lawyer for an alleged Central African Republic rebel told International Criminal Court judges Tuesday that prosecution evidence that led to him being charged with seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes is unreliable and “built on a biased and sketchy narrative.”

Lawyer Jennifer Naouri made her claims in her opening statement on the second day of the trial at the global court of Mahamat Said, an alleged senior leader of the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group that deposed then-President Francois Bozize in 2013.

Fighting in the capital, Bangui, between the Seleka rebels, who seized power from Bozize, and a mainly Christian militia called the anti-Balaka left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Said, 52, entered a not guilty plea on Monday to charges including torture and persecution. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Naouri told judges the evidence against her client could not be trusted.

“The prosecution has built its case on a biased and sketchy narrative very far from the reality of what actually happened in the Central African Republic at the time," she said.

"The prosecution is bringing before this chamber incomplete evidence, evidence that has not been corroborated, evidence full of hearsay, evidence that has not been authenticated and that is lacking in reliability. Evidence that has come out of a poor investigation.”

Prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday said that Said should be found guilty for his alleged leadership role at a detention center in the capital, Bangui, called the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry, from April to August 2013. They said he and dozens of Seleka rebels allegedly held prisoners perceived as Bozize supporters in inhumane conditions and subjected them to torture and brutal interrogations including whipping and beating them with truncheons and rifle butts.

“This was no office to repress banditry. This was no location to assess any criminal conduct,” he said. “This was a torture center designed as such to spread terror, hardship and pain.”

But Naouri said that depiction was “completely disassociated from reality.” She insisted it was "a police station, a place where police officers work and where they carry out their duties, namely ensuring public order, enforcing the law.”

She also said that fighting in the mineral-rich but impoverished country at the time Said is alleged to have perpetrated crimes did not rise to the level of a war, meaning he could not be charged with war crimes, and that key elements underpinning crimes against humanity charges also were lacking from the prosecution case.

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