Former Suriname dictator vanishes after being sentenced to jail

Former Suriname dictator Desi Bouterse, sentenced to 20 years for the 1982 killings of political opponents, has evaded authorities amid claims of a politically motivated conviction.

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FILE PHOTO: Former Suriname president Desi Bouterse speaks during a news conference after the Court Martial of Suriname confirmed a 20-year jail sentence for his involvement in the murder of 15 people while he ruled in 1982 during his military government, in Paramaribo. REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh/File Photo

Former Suriname dictator Desi Bouterse, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month for the 1982 killings of more than a dozen political opponents, has vanished after not turning himself in to authorities on Friday as planned.

Bouterse’s wife, Ingrid Bouterse-Waldring, claimed ignorance about his whereabouts and adamantly declared, “He’s not going to jail!” She criticized the judicial authorities, asserting that the conviction was politically motivated.

On Wednesday last week, authorities had instructed Bouterse and four others convicted in the case to report to different prisons by Friday. While three complied, the 78-year-old Bouterse did not came by late Friday afternoon. In response, the prosecutor’s office issued a brief statement announcing an investigation into those who had not complied with the jail reporting.

Ingrid Bouterse-Waldring mentioned not having seen or spoken to her husband for a few days. Meanwhile, supporters of Bouterse and the National Democratic Party gathered at his residence on Friday, expressing their backing with loud music and confrontations with journalists. The government responded by tightening security measures, underlining the commitment to ensuring the safety of all parties involved and the wider society.

Party spokesperson Ricardo Panka stated the party’s disagreement with the sentencing, affirming that Bouterse would retain his position as chairman. However, he urged the assembled crowd to remain calm amidst the escalating situation. He said they have no intention of inciting the angry mob against the authorities.

Desi Bouterse was handed a sentence on December 20 for his involvement in the killings of 15 political opponents, marking the conclusion of a 16-year legal process. Previous sentences in 2019 and 2021 were appealed, and a fresh appeal was filed on Monday by a new legal team. They argued that an amnesty law, which Bouterse had unsuccessfully attempted to pass over a decade ago, should be applicable. However, Suriname’s attorney general rejected this argument on Tuesday.

Bouterse, who orchestrated a bloodless coup and ruled as a dictator from 1980 to 1987, faced accusations of orchestrating the executions of notable individuals, including lawyers, journalists, and a university professor, at a colonial fortress in Paramaribo.

While Bouterse has acknowledged “political responsibility” for the 1982 killings, he maintains that he was not physically present during the events. Despite his controversial past, he was democratically elected as president and served from 2010 to 2020.

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