A Suriname military court last Friday sentenced the country’s president Desi Bourterse to 20 years imprisonment for murdering 15 political opponents 37 years ago, ABC News can report.
This ruling, given at a time when the President is on a state visit to China, has put the South American country on the edge over what happens next.
Opposition parties after the ruling have called on President Bouterse to step down.
DW reports that the 74-year-old leader was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the military court did not issue an arrest warrant. Under Surinamese law, he cannot be arrested until all appeals have been exhausted.
After the court decision, the government asked its citizens to remain calm.
As a junior military officer, Bouterse seized power in a coup in 1980, five years after Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down in 1987 under international pressure in a move that led to a democratic election, only to briefly seize power again in 1990.
He later left the army and took office again in 2010, following democratic elections won by his National Democratic Party (NDP). He secured a second term in 2015.
The court ruled that Bouterse had overseen what is known as the “December killings,” in which soldiers abducted 16 opponents, among them prominent journalists, academics and military officers.
The lone survivor, now a union leader testified against Bouterse.
The court decision marks a turning point in a trial that began in 2007 when Bouterse accepted “political responsibility” for the killings but insisted he was not present.
Bouterse and the NDP have repeatedly sought to obstruct the trial. Shortly after taking office in 2010, the NDP-controlled National Assembly granted him amnesty, which was overturned by the constitutional court.
Then in 2016, the president asked the Attorney-General to halt the legal proceedings against him, but the court ruled against the move because the trial had already started.
After the ruling by the military court, Angelic del Castillo, head of the opposition Democratic Alternative 1991 party, said Bouterse had “disqualified himself” and demanded that he immediately step down.
Moreover, a joint statement by the diplomatic missions of France, United States, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom has made calls for the ruling regarding the killings to be “implemented and upheld in the with the rule of law.”
“The integrity and independence of the Judiciary is a pillar in Suriname society,” they said.