Abidjan – About 150 suspected supporters of Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo are receiving medical treatment in prison after starting a hunger strike this month, an official from Gbagbo’s political party and a UN document said.
More than 300 detainees at the main prison in the commercial capital Abidjan, many of whom have been held for more than two years, began their hunger strike on 1 December, calling for Ivorian authorities to either start their trials or free them on bail.
President Alassane Ouattara, who defeated Gbagbo in an election run-off in late 2010, has won praise for the rapid economic turnaround of Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, since a 2011 civil war.
But critics say he has pursued a policy of “victor’s justice”, jailing opponents since the conflict while ignoring abuses committed by his own supporters.
The human rights division of Ivory Coast’s UN mission, UNOCI, visited the prisoners on 11 December.
“UNOCI Human Rights observed that about 150 detainees were admitted at the prison infirmary, including six in a serious condition and three of whom required medical evacuation to a hospital,” an internal UN report said after the visit.
Michel Gbagbo, the son of the former president and head of his FPI party’s prisoner affairs committee, said many were suffering from dehydration and others had seen a worsening of health problems linked to their treatment since their arrests.
Asked about the inmates on Wednesday, government spokesperson Bruno Kone said he was not aware any were suffering from health problems.
Gbagbo is facing charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court for his role in the conflict, which erupted following his refusal to accept his election defeat by Ouattara.
Hundreds of Gbagbo supporters, including many top FPI officials, were jailed in immediately after the brief war, though many were later released pending trial.
Most of those involved in the hunger strike, however, were picked up in several waves of arrests amid a spate of armed attacks that began in late 2012.
Ivorian authorities blamed the attacks, which targeted police and army installations as well as a major power plant, on radical supporters of the former president.
“We see the principal political leaders incriminated during the crisis are out on bail, so the question is why not them?” Michel Gbagbo, freed from prison last year, told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Gareth Jones)