THE HAGUE/ABIDJAN (Reuters) - International Criminal Court appeals judges delayed the release of ex-Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo on Friday, ordering that he be held for at least two more weeks after being acquitted on crimes against humanity charges.
Trial judges on Tuesday said prosecutors had failed to link Gbagbo, who has spent seven years in custody in The Hague, to election-related violence in 2010 and 2011 in which some 3,000 people were killed.
They ordered him to be set free, refusing a request by prosecutors to extend his detention while they appeal the case.
But the 3-2 decision on Friday by the five member appeals panel means Gbagbo and his co-defendant, former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude, will continue to be held, at least until the appeals panel has reviewed the trial chamber’s decision to release them. A new court date was set for Feb. 1.
“The detention of Mr Laurent Gbagbo and Mr Charles Blé Goudé shall be maintained pending the consideration of the present appeal,” the ruling said.
Rodrigue Dadje, a lawyer for the ex-leader’s wife Simone Gbagbo, said he was not disappointed.
“I am reassured they will come out of prison stronger and cleansed by a judicial process that has been fair and transparent,” Dadje said.
Gbagbo, the first former head of state to be taken into custody by the ICC, ruled Ivory Coast from 2000-2011.
In Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, activist Mercelin Kouakou said: “It is with a lot of pain and sadness that I receive this news.”
“I have faith that President Laurent Gbagbo and Minister Charles Ble Goude will be back among us, and that together we will walk the path of reconciliation,” she said, speaking in front Simone Gbagbo’s residence.
Gbagbo’s acquittal was deplored by victims’ groups representing those who died in violence during the 2010 election, in which Gbagbo refused to concede defeat his rival Alassane Ouattara.
Hundreds of thousands fled the unrest that prosecutors blamed on Gbagbo and victims fear his return home could revive hostilities in Abidjan.
In their earlier ruling to free the men, the trial judges said the prosecution case was “exceptionally weak” and that it was unlikely the acquittals would be overturned.
The appeals chamber backed the prosecution arguments that Gbagbo might not return for future court hearings if he were set free. Prosecutors said that his wife, who is also the subject of an ICC arrest warrant, has been living openly in Ivory Coast.
Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Agne Aboa in Abidjan; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Angus MacSwan