The Central African Republic's Court of Appeal has sentenced former President Francois Bozize to hard labor for life for "undermining the internal security of the state" and "assassinations."
Bozize, who lives in exile in Guinea-Bissau, now serves as coordinator of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), the main Central African Republic rebel coalition formed in 2020 that is operating mainly in the north.
Bozize was sentenced in absentia Thursday along with his eldest son, Jean-Francis Bozize; Maxime Mokom Gawaka, a former militia leader whose trial is yet to be determined at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) and 20 other co-defendants, national radio reported Friday, citing Joachim Pessire, First President of the Court of Appeal in the national capital of Bangui.
Others convicted include Ali Darassa, a rebel leader of the Central African Peace Unit (UPC), part of the CPC coalition and Nourredine Adam, leader of the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC), among others.
Bozize, 76, seized power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown a decade later by rebels.
Bea Bertin, the vice chairperson of Bozize's political party, Kwa NA Kwa (KNK), and an official of the CPC coalition, denounced the verdict as part of the government's maneuvers to stifle opposition.
"I denounce this trial and the convictions in absentia of François Bozize and other opponents. The current dictatorial power uses all the legal and illegal means at its disposal to try to eliminate all its opponents," Bertin told Anadolu.
The Central African country has been embroiled in conflict since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.
The presidential election in December 2020 was the first in the Central African Republic following the signing of a peace agreement in February 2019 between the government and 14 armed groups.
But violence by armed groups continues regular attacks reported against government forces supported by mercenaries from the Russian private security group, Wagner, hired by President Faustin Archange Touadera.
Touadera, 66, was elected in 2016 in a vote that followed a civil war and reelected in 2020 in an election disrupted by armed rebel groups.
Last month, the country's Constitutional Court validated the results of a constitutional referendum voted by 95.3%, which raised the presidential term from five to seven years and scrapped a two-term limit, giving Touadera a green light to seek a third term in office.