Two senior allies of Burkina Faso‘s deposed former president Blaise Compaore were sentenced to 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively, for organising a 2015 coup attempt against a transitional government.
A military court handed General Gilbert Diendere a 20-year prison term on Monday on charges of murder and harming state security.
General Djibrill Bassole, accused of treason, was given a 10-year prison sentence.
“This is a victory for the Burkinabe people, a victory for democracy and the rule of law,” said Prosper Farama, a lawyer for people injured in the coup attempt. “Only the people, by their legitimacy, confer power.”
The coup fizzled out within a week after army-backed demonstrators attacked the rebels’ barracks. Fourteen people were killed and more than 300 wounded during the unrest.
Diendere and Bassole were the leading figures in a 19-month trial of 84 people accused of the attempted overthrow of Burkina’s transitional government.
The coup was mounted by an elite unit of the army, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), on September 16, 2015, less than a month before scheduled general elections.
Compaore fled to Ivory Coast in 2014 after 27 years in office marked by assassinations and mounting public discord.
He was forced out by a revolt sparked by his attempts to extend his grip on power, and a transitional government took the helm.
Diendere, 60, who had been Compaore’s right-hand man and a former head of the RSP, became the head of the coup-makers’ governing body, the so-called National Council for Democracy.
Bassole, 62, was a foreign minister under Compaore.
Both had denied the charges. But the prosecution, which had sought life sentences, said the pair had been instrumental in the events.
Diendere was “the main instigator in the coup” and Bassole “helped to prepare [it]”, said military prosecutor Pascaline Zoungrana.
Although the would-be putsch was quickly quelled, it had traumatic consequences for Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries with a history of chronic instability.
It dug a deep rift in the armed forces, weakening the ability to cope with mounting attacks by armed groups that have now killed more than 500 people, analysts say.
Last month attackers killed 24 soldiers in the deadliest assault yet on the country’s army.
Burkina, once among the region’s most peaceful countries, has also been riven by inter-ethnic violence over the last few years.
Many in Burkina Faso hoped the end of the trial would shed light on what happened and usher in reconciliation.
Guy Herve Kam, a lawyer representing civilian plaintiffs, said the trial had served the purposes of transparency.
“Today, we know who did what and, especially, why.”