Prosecutors call for 30-year jail term against Burkina Faso’s Ex-President Blaise Compaore

Compaore is accused of masterminding the assassination of revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara.

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Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore

Military prosecutors on Tuesday called for a 30-year jail term against Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore for the 1987 murder of his predecessor, revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara.

Former Burkina Faso revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara

The closely-followed trial is heading to a climax as the West African nation reels from its latest coup, following popular anger over jihadist attacks. Prosecutors asked a military court in the capital Ouagadougou to find Compaore, who fled to Ivory Coast in 2014, guilty on several counts.

Accused of masterminding the assassination, Compaore is being tried in absentia on charges of attacking state security, concealing a corpse and complicity in a murder.

At the request of the defence, the trial was then adjourned until March 1.

Revered among African radicals, Sankara was an army captain aged just 33 when he came to power in a coup in 1983. The fiery Marxist-Leninist railed against imperialism and colonialism, often angering Western leaders but gaining followers across the continent and beyond.

He and 12 colleagues were gunned down by a hit squad on October 15, 1987, at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council. Their assassination coincided with a coup that brought Sankara’s former comrade-in-arms, Compaore, to power.

Compaore ruled for 27 years before being deposed by a popular uprising in 2014 and fleeing to neighbouring Ivory Coast. Fourteen people stand accused in the trial, 12 of them appearing in court. Most pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution also requested 30 years in jail for the commander of Compaore’s presidential guard, Hyacinthe Kafando, who is suspected of having led the hit squad. He is also being tried in absentia. It sought a 20-year sentence for Gilbert Diendere, one of the commanders of the army during the 1987 coup and the main defendant present at the trial. 

He is already serving a 20-year sentence over an attempted military coup in 2015. Mariam Sankara, the slain ex-president’s wife, welcomed the prosecution’s plea.

“We’ve been waiting for years,” she said. Now “we’re waiting for the final verdict.”

‘Asking for justice’

The prosecution recounted the day Sankara was killed in its closing statement. It said that when Sankara headed to the National Revolutionary Council meeting, “his executioners were already there”.

According to its version of events, after Sankara entered the meeting room, the hit squad burst in, killing his guards. 

“The squad then ordered president Sankara and his colleagues to leave the room. They would then be killed one by one,” the prosecution said.

The prosecution also urged prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years for five other defendants, as well as an 11-year suspended sentence for another. It sought acquittal over lack of evidence for three of the accused, and cited the expiration of a statute of limitations for the final two.

The trial was already briefly suspended after a coup on January 24 that deposed the elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

After new military strongman Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba restored the constitution, the trial resumed last week.

Prosper Farama, the lawyer representing the Sankara family, said that, as the trial nears its end, the families were finally feeling some relief — even though “during this trial, no-one confessed or repented. No-one!”

“We ask the court to give the families justice,” he said. “We don’t want revenge, we’re simply asking for justice.”

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