Thu | Sep 28, 2023

Prosecution in Suriname insists on lengthy prison sentence for former president

Published:Wednesday | May 31, 2023 | 3:18 PM
Former President of Suriname Desi Bouterse (right) and his lawyer, Irvin Kanhai, with reporters following Bouterse’s latest court hearing on Tuesday, May 30. – CMC photo.

PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC – The Public Prosecution Service in Suriname is insisting that former president Desi Bouterse be imprisoned for 20 years for his involvement in the murder of 15 people in the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country on December 8, 1982.

But, Bouterse's attorney, Irvin Kanhai, has asked the Court of Justice to acquit his client.

He said the prosecution and court-martial have “unfortunately continued to repeat a story of murderous soldiers and innocent victims, who were killed in a most brutal way because they did not want the dictatorship of the military and wanted to bring about a return to democracy.”

In August 2021, the Court Martial of Suriname upheld the 2019 military court ruling of a 20-year jail term on Bouterse following a trial that had been going on for several years.

In 2017, Bouterse along with 23 co-defendants had appeared in the Military Court after the Court of Justice had earlier rejected a motion to stop the trial.

On Tuesday, acting Attorney General Astrid Niamut reiterated earlier arguments that Bouterse, who was the military ruler of the country at the time of the murders, must be held responsible for the killings and that enough evidence had been provided during the trial.

She argued during the criminal proceedings against Bouterse and co-defendants Ernst Geffery, Iwan Dijksteel, Stephanus Sensor and Benny Brondenstein that this is why the Public Prosecution Service is also demanded Bouterse's imprisonment.

The acting Attorney General said that Bouterse has never expressed regret to the relatives of the victims. 

Nor did he himself want to provide any insight into what exactly happened on December 8, 1982.

The former military officers and civilians had been charged with the December 8, 1982, murders of the 15 men that included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen, and university lecturers.

The prosecution had alleged that the men were arrested on the nights of December 7 and 8 and transferred to Fort Zeelandia, the then headquarters of the Surinamese National Army.

They said the men were tortured and summarily executed.

The Public Prosecution Service argued that Bouterse, who also served as head of state from 2010-2020, acted with premeditation and that there was sufficient time during victims being shot and their bodies collected for him to have thought about the killings.

The prosecution argued that the prisoners were not all killed at the same time, but at different times.

Unlike previous occasions, Bouterse arrived early at the court building telling reporters that he had come to listen to the matter as a courtesy to the prosecution.

“People are trying to present the matter differently from what the actual situation has been. The OM [Public Prosecution Service ] does not understand what is going on at all. They put the emphasis wrong,” he told reporters.

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