Ivory Coast’s Ex-First Lady Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

A criminal court in Ivory Coast sentenced former first lady Simone Gbagbo to 20 years in prison for her role in five months of post-election violence that followed a disputed vote in 2010.

Gbagbo was convicted on charges including taking part in an insurrection and causing public disorder, after her husband Laurent Gbagbo lost the vote to Alassane Ouattara and then refused to step down, her attorney Rodrigue Dadje said by phone on Tuesday. The prosecution had sought a 10-year sentence at the court in the commercial capital, Abidjan. Gbagbo’s defense said it will appeal the decision.

“This is a political judgment, not a criminal judgment”, Dadje said. “A criminal judgment has to be backed by facts and evidence, but in this case, there is no fact nor evidence. The political power has imposed this decision on the court.”

The post-election violence left more than 3,000 people dead in the world’s biggest cocoa-producing nation. Laurent Gbagbo is currently in detention in the Netherlands awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Ivory Coast refused to hand over Simone to the ICC, saying the national courts were able to hear her case. The former first lady, 65, went on trial with more than 80 people in December.

Home Besieged

The Gbagbos were captured in the basement of the presidential residence in April 2011 after French and United Nations soldiers and forces loyal to Ouattara laid siege to their home. Ouattara assumed office a month later and will seek re-election in the next vote scheduled for October.

“Simone Gbagbo’s conviction should not be seen as justice for victims of Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010-2011 crisis,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a e-mailed statement. “Gbagbo was convicted only of crimes against the Ivorian state, not for the killings, rape and crimes against humanity for which she is to be tried by the ICC.”

Simone Gbagbo, an evangelical Christian, was a co-founder of the Ivorian Popular Front, the ex-ruling party, and served as deputy speaker of parliament when her husband was president. When she appeared in court last month before the judges and a panel of six jurors, she refused to acknowledge the charges against her and denied the accusations by the prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the court also withdrew her right to vote or run for public office for 10 years, Dadje said. Michel Gbagbo, the son of the former president was sentenced to 5 years in prison, he said.

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