ABIDJAN, (Reuters) – Ivory Coast’s former first lady Simone Gbagbo went on trial in Abidjan yesterday for her alleged role in stealing an election her husband lost in 2010 and resisting efforts to dislodge him in a civil war that followed.
The trial of Gbagbo and 82 other civilians and soldiers is the most important of its kind in the country since Laurent Gbagbo was driven from the presidency in April 2011 and replaced by the winner of the October 2010 vote, Alassane Ouattara.
The trial before nine jurors began under heavy security and was being widely followed by Ivorians via radio broadcasts, witnesses said. It is expected to last at least a month, according to lawyers.
“If she is found guilty, she will get 20 years to life because we are talking about a crime against state security,” said prosecutor Soungalo Coulibaly. Ivory Coast had earlier refused a request to hand over Simone Gbagbo to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where her husband is being held, arguing she should be tried in a domestic court.
Laurent Gbagbo and an associate, Charles Ble Goude, are being held in the Netherlands pending trial at the ICC on charges including crimes against humanity.
Accusations against all three stem from events that followed 2010 elections. Gbagbo lost to Ouattara but declared himself the winner and was only driven out by rebels and an international military force led by France.
Some 3,000 people died in the war that was widely viewed as avoidable had Gbagbo stepped down. Simone Gbagbo gained a reputation during her husband’s decade in power as an influential hardliner who rallied opposition to the country’s northern rebels.
Since the war, the former first lady has been under house arrest in northern Ivory Coast. She was brought to the commercial capital Abidjan this month ahead of her trial.