Judges must review whether to free Ivory Coast leader: appeal

The Hague (AFP) –


Appeal judges Wednesday struck down a decision denying former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo interim release during his trial for crimes against humanity, and ordered the court to review his situation.

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

Gbagbo and his former militia leader Charles Ble Goude, 45, have pleaded not guilty to four charges arising out of the post-election violence which wracked the Ivory Coast in 2010 to 2011.

About 3,000 people died in the turmoil that swept Abidjan -- once one of Africa's most cosmopolitan cities -- in the aftermath of the November 2010 presidential polls when Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to bitter rival Alassane Ouattara.

In a small initial victory for the former Ivory Coast strongman, five appeals judges agreed the judges in his trial had "erred" on several key points when they refused to release him for the duration of his trial.

The trial opened in January 2016 and could last three to four years.

Greying and balding, Gbagbo listened intently in court to the ruling, with a large beige scarf wrapped around his neck and wearing a casual blue shirt with a red print.

The trial judges had failed to take into account both Gbagbo's advanced age -- he is now 72 -- and his health as well as the fact that he has been in detention since he was handed to the ICC in November 2011, the appeals court ruled.

"The trial chamber should have considered the duration of time Mr Gbagbo has spent in detention ... and whether Mr. Gbagbo's detention continues to be reasonable," said judge Piotr Hofmanski, reading a summary of the ruling.

Therefore the appeals chamber "directs the trial chamber to carry out a new review as to whether Mr Gbagbo should continue to be detained or should be released with or without conditions."

However Gbagbo must remain behind bars until the review is complete, and Hofmanski stressed the appeals court was "not suggesting what the outcome of the trial chambers review should be."