Africa

ICC judges to decide whether to release Laurent Gbagbo

Laurent Gbagbo, 72, is charged with crimes against humanity following election violence that killed around 3,000 people.

Gbagbo declared himself winner of the 2010 election, but France, the US and the UN said victory belonged to his rival Ouattara [AP]

War crimes judges will rule whether former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo can be released from prison for the rest of his trial on charges arising from deadly election violence in 2010.

Gbagbo, the first ex-head of state to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC), has appealed a March decision that he must stay behind bars in a UN detention centre until the end of the legal process.

A five-judge appeals court will "deliver its judgement" on the appeal at 1430 GMT on Wednesday, the court said in a statement.

Both Gbagbo, now 72, and his former militia leader Charles Ble Goude, 45, have pleaded not guilty to four charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape, and persecution in five months of bloodshed that wracked the Ivory Coast.

READ MORE: Simone Gbagbo cleared of war crimes charges

Ivory Coast descended into civil war in 2011 after Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a presidential runoff election.

About 3,000 people were killed in the conflict. 

Gbagbo's highly divisive trial at the tribunal in The Hague opened in January 2016.

Gripping power 'by all means'

ICC prosecutors accuse him of trying to cling to power "by all means", while his defence team has charged that Ouattara seized power by force with the help of former colonial rulers, France.

After a months-long standoff, Gbagbo was arrested by Ouattara's troops aided by United Nations and French forces, and turned over to the ICC in 2011.

In March, his defence team made a new bid to win Gbagbo's release, arguing he "has already been detained for almost six years and has pathologies that affect his physical and psychological wellbeing".

READ MORE: Does Ivory Coast need a new constitution?

The prosecution said the former Ivorian leader still enjoyed a strong network of support and if he were freed "could abscond to a territory out of the reach of the court".

In a majority two-to-one decision, the judges ruled he had to stay in jail.

But in a dissenting opinion - which Gbagbo's defence has seized on - judge Cuno Tarfusser said his detention "has exceeded the threshold of a reasonable duration and that, in light of his age and health, the risk that he might abscond from justice becomes increasingly unlikely".

Rights activists thought it was unlikely he would be freed. Carrie Comer of the Federation International for Human Rights (FIDH) said her organisation shared concerns that Gbagbo "was a flight risk" and highlighted "the sheer gravity of the crimes that he is accused of".

Source: News agencies