A lawyer for war crimes suspect Alfred Yekatom, a former militia leader accused of alleged atrocities against Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), has said his client had been tortured and was later forcibly transferred to The Hague.
Yekatom, a member of parliament previously nicknamed as “Rambo”, was arrested by local officials in the CAR on October 29 and handed to International Criminal Court (ICC) custody on November 17.
At his first appearance before ICC judges since his transfer to the Netherlands, Yekatom on Friday confirmed his name, age and that he had read the charges in his arrest warrant. He was not required to enter a plea at the 35-minute hearing.
Defence lawyer Xavier-Jean Keita told the presiding judge, Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua, that Yekatom says he was beaten with a Kalashnikov rifle butt following his arrest last month after firing gunshots in the parliament in Bangui, the capital of the CAR.
“The arrest was, according to him, brutal,” Keita told the court.
“He was tortured, he says, he was beaten with Kalashnikovs and rifle butts, and he still has visible signs of the beating,” the lawyer added.
“The medical team at the ICC detention centre has observed this.”
Yekatom faces 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment and recruiting child soldiers into his so-called “Anti-balaka” militia group.
The group is accused of attacks on Muslims between December 2013 and August 2014.
Yekatom said the first he had known about the war crimes charges was when he arrived in The Hague.
“No one said anything to me, I was at parliament and there was a bit of trouble there. Then, they arrested me and sent me here,” the ex-fighter, wearing a suit and listening to a translation of the proceedings on headphones, told the court.
“When I got here on Sunday I was given some documents and I read the charges. No one said anything to me there, it was only here that I was told.”
Yekatom’s lawyer added that his “fundamental rights had been violated” because he had been denied access to a judge in the CAR, and the first time he had seen a lawyer was on Monday at the ICC.
The court will hold an official hearing to confirm the charges on April 30, 2019, Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua said.
The judge said he could not immediately deal with the allegations of torture.
“You have raised a very important problem and we cannot deal with it orally. We have to have written submissions, at this stage, we cannot discuss this question, nor resolve it.”