The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ordered the interim release “under specific conditions” of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the ex-vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following his acquittal last week on war crimes charges.
The 55-year-old was acquitted on Friday and his 18-year sentence was overturned, but he remained in custody because he is awaiting a final sentencing in another case in which he was convicted of interfering with witnesses.
Judges imposed conditions on Bemba’s release, including that he not make public statements on the case or contact witnesses.
Bemba’s defence lawyers argued at a hearing on Tuesday that he was “not a flight risk” and that “there is no legal or objective justification to separate Mr Bemba from his family for one day longer.”
His lawyer Peter Haynes told journalists that the rebel commander-turned-politician planned to travel to Brussels, Belgium, to be reunited with his family who live there.
Bemba was the highest-ranking politician convicted by the permanent war crimes court, and his case had been seen as establishing a precedent that political and military officials may be held liable for the actions of troops under their command.
In what was described as a landmark ruling, Bemba was sentenced to 18 years in prison in June 2016 for five counts of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army during a five-month rampage in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).
Presiding judge Christine Van den Wijngaert said on Friday that Bemba could not be held responsible for atrocities carried out by troops under his control in the CAR, and that trial judges had failed to consider the efforts he made to stop crimes once he became aware of them.
His acquittal is a huge blow for prosecutors, as his conviction was one of the few they had won since the court’s establishment in 2002.