Court upholds 20-year jail sentence for former Suriname President

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Desi Bouterse (File Photo)

BROOKLYN, NY– The Court-Martial of Suriname confirmed the 20-year jail sentence imposed on former Suriname President Desi Bouterse for the murder of 15 people. In contrast, he had ruled the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country as a military ruler in 1982.

Bouterse, who lost the last presidential elections here last year, was not present in court, but his attorney, Arjan Ramlakhan, has already indicated that he will be appealing the ruling.

In November 2019, the Military sentenced Bouterse to 20 years in prison for his involvement in the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents of his then military government. The trial had been going on for several years, and in a lengthy verdict, the Court did not order the detention of Bouterse, who was then on an official visit to China.

The prosecution had asked for a 20-year jail term, and the court ruling took over four hours to deliver.

In 2018, the lawyer for  Bouterse had asked the Military Court to acquit his client after brandishing the victims as “traitors.”

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

On Monday, attorney Hugo Essed said that the Court Martial had referred to the” improper use of the legal remedy.” While both the military prosecutor and the defense persisted with previous testimonies and statements, Bouterse invoked his right to remain silent.

“Nevertheless, the Court Martial has ruled that there is every reason to confirm the judgment in absentia, pronounced on November 29, 2019. As a result, the handling of the case in opposition has now been closed,” said Essed.

Both the defense and the military prosecutor can appeal against the ruling within a 14-day period. Essed also expects Bouterse to invoke his right to remain silent in the appeal, just as he has been doing.

On Monday, a small group of the National Democratic Party (NDP) supporters gathered in the vicinity of the courthouse, shouting “Bouterse is not going anywhere” and “we Want Bouta.”

Earlier, in a statement, NDP spokesman Ricardo Panka called on members and supporters to “keep all calm and coolness.”

Media reports said that several army units, including the air force, had been placed on standby to support the police as part of ‘Operation Alertness.’

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