Bouterse slams military court ruling as 'political'

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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PARAMARIBO, Suriname (CMC) — President Desi Bouterse returned to Suriname on Sunday, declaring his innocence and labelling as “political” the decision of a military court that on Friday sentenced him to 20 years in jail for his involvement in the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents of his then military Government.

On his return from his official visit to China, Bouterse, 74, has promised to challenge the results, saying “we will stay within the law and regulations. Politics needs to be answered with politics”.

He told at least 1,500 supporters, who greeted him, that “there is a lot of love in my party”, insisting that the decision of the three-panel Military Court was not unexpected.

“It was clear that the verdict was political,” he said, indicating that he was also advised by his lawyers not to discuss the ruling.

But he said he would meet with his advisers and Members of Parliament on the strategy to follow, and that he is focused on the May 2020 General Election with his ruling National Democratic Party, even as the opposition parties called for Bouterse to step down.

The trial has been going on for several years, and, in a lengthy verdict, the court did not order his detention.

The prosecution had asked for a 20-year jail term and the court ruling took over four hours to deliver. Bouterse has two weeks to file an appeal.

Last year, the lawyer for President Bouterse had asked the court to acquit his client after branding the victims as “traitors”.

In 2017 Bouterse, along with 23 co-defendants, appeared in the Military Court of Suriname after the Court of Justice had earlier rejected a motion to stop the trial. The former military officers and civilians had been charged with the December 8, 1982 murders of the 15 men who included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen and university lecturers.

The prosecution had alleged that the men were arrested on the night of December 7 and 8 of that year and transferred to Fort Zeelandia, then the headquarters of Surinamese National Army. They said the men were tortured that night and summarily executed.

The Court of Justice ruled that the criminal case should be continued by the Military Court since the prosecutors' request to end the trial wasn't based on any provision in the Surinamese criminal law.

In June 2016, the Military Court ruled that the Amnesty Law, which was criticised by human rights groups as an attempt to shield Bouterse, was unlawful.

Several years ago, the former army commander claimed political responsibility for the murders since he was head of Government at the time of the massacre, but has denied any personal involvement in the killings.

The military Government claimed that the men had conspired to stage a coup. Bouterse later became president of Suriname through ademocratic election in May 2010 and won re-election in May 2015.

In December 2017, Ruben Rozendaal, one of the co-defendants in the mass murder trial involving Bouterse, died, after allegedly committing suicide by bleeding to death following a cut on his left arm.


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