A court in Ivory Coast on Tuesday sentenced former first lady Simone Gbagbo to a 20-year prison term on charges of “undermining state security” during post-election violence in 2010-2011 that left nearly 3,000 dead.
The wife of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo was also accused of “disturbing public order” and “organising armed gangs” after her husband and his supporters rejected results of the December 2010 presidential elections showing rival Alassane Ouattara had won the contest.
The court “unanimously” condemned her to 20 years in jail, court president Tahirou Dembele said in a statement Tuesday.
Gbagbo’s face hardened as the verdict was read. She was “a little affected” by the sentence, her lawyer Me Rodrigue Dadje told AFP.
“I am ashamed of Ivorian justice,” he said, adding that they would appeal the sentence.
“We showed that impunity in Ivory Coast must not continue,” said state prosecutor Soungalo Coulibaly.
Laurent Gbagbo’s son Michel, a French-born dual national from a previous marriage, was also sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the violence.
– Death squads –
Once referred to by admirers and opponents alike as Ivory Coast’s “Iron Lady,” Simone Gbagbo has been on trial since January with 82 co-defendants accused of varying degrees of involvement in the deadly unrest.
A key issue in her trial was whether she played a part in directing the death squads that ran amok in the weeks after the disputed vote.
Prosecutors had asked for a lighter 10-year jail term for the 65-year-old Gbagbo.
“Simone Gbagbo most certainly participated in the composition of armed gangs,” state prosecutor Simon Yabo Odi told the court Tuesday, adding “her men… participated in an insurrectional movement.”
The previous day, the former first lady gave testimony for nearly four hours, confronting witnesses who said they’d seen her distributing arms to youths in Abidjan with flat denials.
She told the court that she “forgives” her accusers, saying: “I have suffered humiliation on humiliation during this trial. But I am ready to forgive… because if we do not forgive, the country faces a crisis worse than what we experienced.”
She also said she did not “know exactly what the concrete actions are that I am being accused of”, and insisted her husband had legitimately won the 2010 election.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in months of post-election violence, which was halted by the intervention of international forces acting under a UN mandate and led by former colonial power France.
The defeated regime allegedly used brutal militias to attack supporters of the declared winner of the poll, Ouattara, but some of his backers are equally accused of atrocities in violence that killed thousands.
The Gbagbo couple were arrested in April 2011. The former first lady was taken into custody in the north of the west African country, where she testified she was “beaten with incredible violence”.
The former president himself is in The Hague awaiting trial in July for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Affi N’Guessan, the former head of the first couple’s political party, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his role in the unrest, covered by the two years he has already served in detention.
No one close to Ouattara has been investigated or prosecuted in connection with the violence.