Following last week’s acquittal for charges on war crimes, Jean Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese vice-president has been ordered to be released by judges of the International Criminal Court.
The court order issued Tuesday stipulates Bemba be set free in Belgium where his family resides. He has been at the detention centre of the ICC since his arrest back in 2008. The opposition leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo was convicted in 2016 of crimes against humanity and given an18-years prison sentence.
That conviction was overturned last Friday on appeal. With the Appeal judges ruling in Bemba’s favour that he could not be held responsible for the killings and raping of civilians by soldiers who were under his command.
Since the International Criminal Court was set up in 2002 to pursue war crimes, Jean Pierre Bemba was the highest ranking official among four people ever to have been successfully prosecuted.
Usually, suspects are freed immediately when acquitted but Bemba is facing a separate charge for witness tampering during the course of his trial. He risks a 5-year prison sentence if he’s convicted. Prosecutors brought a charge for witness tampering in November 2013 and have pushed for him to remain in custody of the permanent war crimes court until a verdict is issued on that particular charge.
Bemba is regarded as a strong contender for December presidential elections in DR Congo. Despite his legal troubles, his political ambitions have not been swayed. If the former VP were to return to Congo ahead of the polls, opponents of the President Kabila will readily embrace him as he enjoys a huge following in the western part of the country.
Having challenged Kabila in 2006 and came close to winning the race, he poses the biggest challenge to a Kabila run as there are many indications of Kabila seeking a third term.
BaretaNews Foreign Correspondent/Analyst