A court in Ivory Coast has sentenced former rebel leader and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro to life imprisonment in absentia on charges of plotting a coup against President Alassane Ouattara in late 2019.
The verdict on Wednesday came after 49-year-old Soro, who has been in exile in Europe for about two years, was charged with conspiracy and an attempted attack on state authority.
His lawyers have previously condemned the charges as politically motivated and said there was no evidence to show he was guilty.
Two other defendants, Soro’s close associates Souleymane Kamagate and Affoussy Bamba, received 20-year sentences. Two of Soro’s brothers and his former aide Alain Lobognon got 17-month jail terms for “disturbing public order”.
The court also ordered the confiscation of the assets of Soro and those of his 19 co-defendants and the dissolution of his Generations and Solidary Movement for “subversive acts”. It also ordered them to pay one billion CFA francs ($179m) to the Ivorian state.
There was no immediate reaction by Soro.
The case has raised tensions in a country still recovering from a brief civil war a decade ago, during which Soro led the rebels that swept Ouattara to power after a disputed election that saw then-President Laurent Gbagbo refusing to accept defeat.
Soro, who is thought to be popular among the country’s growing young population, served as prime minister and speaker of parliament under Ouattara.
But the two men later fell out as the president made clear he would oppose his subordinate’s own presidential ambitions.
Soro was charged with fomenting a “civilian and military insurrection” as he was planning a return to the country in December 2019 to run for president – a bid that was quashed by the Constitutional Court.
Soro was one of some 40 candidates barred from running in the October 2020 election that saw Ouattara win a controversial third term with 94 percent of the vote.
The opposition boycotted the vote, saying Ouattara’s bid for a third term broke a legal two-term limit and undermined the country’s democratic process. The president’s camp said constitutional amendments introduced in 2016 reset the two-term limits to zero, allowing Ouattara to run again.
Dozens of people were killed in unrest surrounding the bitterly contested polls.
Since then, Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, has seen relative calm, with dialogue between the government and opposition parties and various opposition figures released from prison.