The charismatic Marxist revolutionary Sankara was gunned down in the West African nation’s capital Ouagadougou at the age of 37, four years after he took power in a previous putsch.
Two of Compaore’s former top associates, Hyacinthe Kafando and Gilbert Diendere, were also sentenced to life imprisonment.
All three have previously denied involvement in Sankara’s death along with 11 other defendants accused of involvement in the plot. Three of the 11 were declared innocent and the rest received prison terms of between three and 20 years.
Compaore was found guilty of an attack on state security, complicity in murder and concealment of a corpse, the tribunal said in its ruling.
Africa’s ‘Che Guevara’
Sankara, who gained a reputation as Africa’s “Che Guevara,” took power on a promise to thwart corruption and post-colonial influences, denouncing foreign aid as a control mechanism.
He rolled out mass vaccination against polio, banned female circumcision and polygamy, and was one of the first African leaders to publicly recognize the growing AIDS epidemic as a threat for the continent.
A former fighter pilot, Sankara won public support in the impoverished nation by selling a government fleet of Mercedes, lowering the pay of well-off public servants and forbidding first class state travel.
He cut his own salary, refused to work with air conditioning and jogged through Ouagadougou unaccompanied.
Critics say his reforms curtailed freedoms and did little to enrich ordinary people. But admiration remains and justice has been long-awaited by Sankara’s family and supporters.
“I think Burkinabe know now who Thomas Sankara was … what he wanted and what those who assassinated him wanted too,” said Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, speaking at the courthouse.
A procession and gathering are planned later in the day at the spot Sankara was shot, where a statue of him now stands.
“Today I am very proud to see the culmination of a legal battle of almost 30 years, proud to have a country where justice works,” said Guy Herve Kam, a lawyer for Sankara’s family.