A court in Ivory Coast has acquitted former first lady Simone Gbagbo of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges linked to her role in a 2011 civil war that killed about 3,000 people, state television announced on Tuesday.
Judge Kouadio Bouatchi said a jury unanimously voted to free Gbagbo. The prosecution had asked for a life sentence, saying she participated on a committee that organised abuses against supporters of her husband’s opponent after the 2010 election.
More than 3,000 people were killed after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara.
The trial, the west African country’s first for crimes against humanity, was held in an Ivorian court after the government rejected her extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
“We are happy. Since the start of the trial we proclaimed her innocence. The prosecution’s case against her was empty,” Gbagbo’s lawyer, Mathurin Dirabou, told Reuters after the verdict was announced.
Tuesday’s acquittal was a surprise for many. Simone Gbagbo did not attend the trial in protest and was not present for the verdict.
“I’m disappointed and sad for the victims today. Only international justice can fight against impunity, it seems. We can no longer trust Ivorian justice,” said Issiaka Diaby, president of the association for victims of the crisis.
Simone Gbagbo had already been tried and convicted in March 2015 of offences against the state and sentenced to 20 years in prison, a jail term that was upheld on appeal this month.
Prosecutors in her war crimes trial alleged she was part of a small group of party officials from Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) which planned violence against supporters of Ouattara to stop him taking power.
Her husband, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, is standing trial before the ICC on similar charges connected to the brief conflict.