ABIDJAN — A top leader of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo's party was jailed for six months on Friday for disturbing public order, as his supporters denounced what they said was a political verdict.
Laurent Akoun, the number two in the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), had been arrested on Sunday.
His sentence was announced after a four-hour hearing during which prosecutor Allah Kouame had asked for a jail term of five years.
Kouame pointed to comments he said Akoun had made at a meeting of his supporters, which had been picked up in the press.
His accusations that President Alassane Ouattare had lied and his claim that the president had wanted to kill his political rival Gbagbo amounted to incitement to revolt and were a threat to public order, the prosecutor argued.
During the hearing, presiding judge Braman Kone had asked Akoun about any possible connection with his comments and a wave of deadly attacks against the army that started a few days later.
His questions provoked an uproar in the court, where many of Akoun's party colleagues were present.
"It's not by breaking and muzzling the opposition that you'll manage to solve the problems in this country," Akoun retorted.
Toussaint Zahui Dako, one of Akoun's lawyers, who had argued for the charges to be dismissed, said the defence would be appealing.
"It's a disappointment," he said of the jail term.
"It was clear throughout from the questions put by the prosecutor that it was a political verdict."
Ambroise Farama, another lawyer for Akoun, also denounced the sentence.
"Handing the secretary general such a sentence is a bid to decapitate the party," he said.
"It is not for the courts to take such a decision."
Akoun is the third key Gbagbo ally to be detained in recent days, after speaking out against President Alassane Ouattara's government.
Another close Gbagbo official, former minister Alphonse Douati, was arrested on August 18 and later charged with "violating state security".
Gbagbo's spokesman Kone Katinan Justin was arrested on August 24 in Ghana, where he fled after the collapse of Gbagbo's regime.
The arrests followed a series of attacks on an army base, a prison and police stations near the economic capital Abidjan, as well as on army posts and a border crossing with Liberia.
The government has blamed the attacks, which have claimed a dozen lives, on Gbagbo supporters.
The attacks have brought tensions in Ivory Coast to a level not seen since the December 2010-April 2011 crisis sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to concede defeat in the presidential election.
Gbagbo was finally captured on April 11, 2011, and since November has been in custody at The Hague awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
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