March 10, 2015 / 7:34 AM / 2 years ago

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

A man sells a copy of Le Nouveau Courrier, which has a picture of Ivory Coast's former first lady Simone Gbagbo (2nd L, on newspaper), at a street in Abidjan March 10, 2015.Luc Gnago

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A court in Ivory Coast sentenced former first lady Simone Gbagbo on Tuesday 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.

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.

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

He said they would appeal against the verdict by the end of the week, adding: "She is keeping her morale up since she was more or less expecting this."

Her sentence, handed down in the early hours of Tuesday by a six-member jury after nine hours of deliberations, 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.

An ICC spokesman said her conviction in Ivory Coast would not affect the case before the world court, which he said would continue to seek her extradition by Ouattara's government.

"PREPARED TO FORGIVE"

"Ms 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," New York-based rights campaigner Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, president of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party and seen as a potential candidate to challenge President Ouattara in elections this year, was handed an 18-month sentence.

But, credited with time served, he was freed, as were nine ex-government ministers and four journalists who had been among dozens of Gbagbo's allies arrested after the violence in 2011.

Simone Gbagbo said on Monday prosecutors had insulted and humiliated her while failing to prove her guilt.

"I'm prepared to forgive. I forgive because, if we don't forgive, this country will burn," she said.

Though praised for his stewardship of Ivory Coast's post-war recovery, 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, with some calling for the release of Simone Gbagbo and the other defendants as a gesture toward national reconciliation.

However, others welcomed the verdict.

"Everyone responsible for what happened in 2011 must pay," said Gilbert Kouakou, an auditor.

Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam and Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones

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