Ivory Coast jails ex-first lady for 20 years over poll violence

Mixed reactions follow the jailing of former Ivory Coast first lady Simone Gbagbo.

ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST (MARCH 10, 2015) (REUTERS) – A court in Ivory Coast sentenced former first lady Simone Gbagbo on Tuesday (March 10) to 20 years in prison for her role in a 2011 post-election crisis in which around 3,000 people were killed, her lawyer said.

Gbagbo, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was tried with 82 other allies of former president Laurent Gbagbo in a case that has reopened divisions in a nation still recovering from years of political turmoil and conflict.

General Bruno Dogbo Ble, who headed the elite republican guard, and former navy chief Admiral Vagba Faussignaux were also each jailed for 20 years, their lawyer said, while others including the ex-president’s son Michel got shorter sentences.

Speaking after the verdict was made public at an Abidjan court, prosecution lawyer Soungalo Coulibaly said he felt justice has been served.

“There were more than 3,000 victims in Ivory Coast, and I said that during the proceedings. We even burnt people alive. For this reason alone I think the Ivorian state, that we represent, we are satisfied with the result. Because impunity should not go on in Ivory Coast,” Coulibaly said.

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to acknowledge his defeat by Alassane Ouattara in elections in 2010 sparked a brief civil war, claimed the trial was politically motivated.

“What we can’t accept, and we say it and insist on it, is that she was victimized, it’s all because of who she is. It’s a lottery, the way we distribute sentences,” said Maturin Djirabout, the Chief of Gbagbo’s defence.

Simone Gbagbo’s lawyer Rodrigue Dadje told Reuters she had been found guilty of crimes including disturbing the peace, organising armed gangs and undermining state security.

He said the defence will appeal the court’s decision before the end of the week.

Her sentence, handed down by a six-member jury, was longer than the 10 years requested by the state prosecutor. Her civil rights will also be suspended for 10 years, Dadje said.

Laurent Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the ICC accused of crimes against humanity. Ivory Coast refused to transfer Simone Gbagbo to The Hague to face similar charges, arguing that she could receive a fair trial in a domestic court.

The trial verdicts were announced in the early hours of Tuesday morning after around nine hours of deliberations by the jury, with the former president’s son, Michel Gbagbo, also convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, Dadje said.

Though praised for his stewardship of Ivory Coast’s post-war recovery, President Ouattara has been accused by human rights groups of pursuing one-sided justice against his former rivals while ignoring abuses committed by his own supporters.

In the commercial capital Abidjan, reaction was divided.

But some said their only concern was the way the verdict will affect reconciliation.

“I had expected this verdict but I ask myself the question: will this verdict bring us to peace, which is what we are looking for. If this doesn’t bring us to the peace we look for, then the President should use his power to act in a way that this brings us to peace,” said Edouard Kouame, an accountant from Abidjan.