Ex-Emperor Sentenced to Death : African Republic Expected to Commute Bokassa’s Sentence
Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the former Emperor Bokassa I, was convicted today of murder, arbitrary arrest and embezzlement of public funds and sentenced to death.
President Andre Kolingba, however, is likely to commute the sentence, government officials and foreign diplomats said. Kolingba has commuted every death sentence imposed since he took power in an army coup Sept. 1, 1981.
Bokassa, 66, ruled over this impoverished nation for nearly 14 years in a brutal reign that made him one of the world’s most notorious dictators.
Today he stood impassively as Judge Edouard Franck began reading the judgment and sentence at the end of the six-month trial. Later, Bokassa was allowed to sit down when he showed signs of fatigue.
Acquitted of Cannibalism
Three judges and six jurors acquitted Bokassa of charges that included cannibalism, procuring human bodies for cannibalistic purposes and stealing the crown jewels used at his 1977 coronation.
It was the first time in post-colonial Africa that a former chief of state was put on trial in public and with all rights guaranteed to the defense.
Public prosecutor Gabriel Mbodou acknowledged during the trial that he did not have sufficient evidence to sustain two of the charges--cannibalism and intelligence-sharing with a foreign power, Libya--but these charges remained on the official indictment.
Bokassa’s former chef told the court that he often prepared human flesh for consumption by Bokassa but said he never saw him eat it.
Served in Indochina
Bokassa served with distinction in the French Indochina war in the 1950s, rising to the rank of captain, which allowed him to acquire full French citizenship. As chief of staff of the army, he seized power on New Year’s Eve 1965 and installed a tyranny that was infamous in Africa.
Backed by France because he was staunchly anti-communist, he later lost much of that support for befriending Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
On Dec. 4, 1977, Bokassa crowned himself emperor in an extravagant ceremony modeled on the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte.
His diamond-studded crown jewels and pearl-encrusted shoes were part of a ceremony estimated to have cost this poor, landlocked country of 3 million inhabitants more than $100 million.
Two years later, his soldiers massacred more than 100 schoolchildren during a riotous protest against the compulsory wearing of school uniforms manufactured in a plant owned by Bokassa’s wife.
The massacre was among the 14 charges against him.
In the subsequent worldwide outcry against his regime, he was ousted in a French-backed coup in September, 1979, while on a visit to Libya. He later found asylum in one of the six chateaux he had bought in France.
Last October, he slipped past his French police guards and flew secretly to Bangui from Rome. He was arrested on arrival and immediately recharged with the crimes on which he and several aides were sentenced to death in 1980. Some aides were executed under the regime of Kolingba’s predecessor, David Dacko.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.