Bouterse jail sentence appeal to start

Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Associated Press / Edward Troon/File

Desi Bouterse’s near 40-year quest to remain a free man will be tested in Suriname’s appeals court at the end of July when a panel of judges will hear his appeal against a 20-year sentence for mass murders linked to the period when he was the republic’s military dictator.

Bouterse, 76, was in 2019 sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly ordering the execution of 15 people who had opposed military rule in Suriname that had resulted from the February 1980 coup against the then elected government.

Bouterse and his fellow military officers as well as the band of military advisers and ministers who were running the country, had accused the 15 of plotting with the west to reverse the bloody coup that had plunged the Dutch-speaking nation of about 500,000 into its worst economic situation since independence from The Netherlands in 1975.

The 15, including four journalists, clergymen, labor leaders and academics, were shot and killed one by one at a Dutch colonial era fort right next door to the presidential secretariat and a few steps away from parliament in December 1982. Bouterse was himself elected president for two consecutive, five-year terms up to 2020 so it means that he had served in the presidential office just yards away from the site of the executions.

Now out of government, not in the best of health and struggling to avoid jail time, Bouterse and his attorneys had appealed the sentence contending that the court had erred in following legal procedures. Five other former soldiers and civilians will also be in court as the appeal is also related to them.

Star News online newspapers reported Thursday that the trial will start about a year after he had filed the appeal. Two civilians and one judge with military experience will sit on the panel to determine once and for all the former military strongman’s fate. This is in keeping with the military criminal justice act.

The first efforts to criminally charge Bouterse and the others for the mass murders date back more than 20 years. Relatives and other survivors kept the issue alive annually with ceremonies at a monument, complete with speeches and other forms of tributes. In all, authorities had charged 25 people including Bouterse. Some have been freed, others have died.

To ensure he remained free, parliament had back in 2012 controversially passed a law giving amnesty to those accused but an appeals panel had ruled that the trial could still have gone ahead as it has, resulting in the 20-year sentence. The constitutional court had also nullified the amnesty law.

Still few in Suriname believe that he will ever serve a day in prison as authorities have persistently said they fear civil unrest from this loyal brigade of National Democratic Party (NDP) members, former soldiers and other sympathizers.

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