ICC Rejects Request to Keep Ivory Coast's Gbagbo Detained

(Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court rejected a request from prosecutors to keep Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo in custody as they prepare an appeal against his acquittal.

Gbagbo, 73, was being tried for four counts of crimes against humanity by the court in The Hague, where he has spent seven years in detention. His surprise acquittal on Tuesday will pave the way for his return to the world’s biggest cocoa grower as it prepares for presidential elections next year.

The chances of a successful appeal are low given the “exceptionally weak evidence presented by the prosecution,” Judge Cuno Tarfusser said Wednesday. “It doesn’t make sense to detain defendants that have already been acquitted.”

Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 following a five-month conflict triggered by his refusal to accept defeat in a presidential vote. The post-election conflict left at least 3,000 people, mostly Gbagbo opponents, missing or dead. Gbagbo was acquitted alongside Charles Ble Goude, former leader of the pro-Gbagbo militant group Young Patriots whose case was joined to Gbagbo’s in 2015.

Flight Risks

Ivory Coast’s government said in a statement that the decision to acquit Gbagbo will bolster peace in the country, spokesman Sidi Toure told reporters Wednesday in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Prosecutors had argued that the court should only release Gbagbo and Ble Goude under strict conditions because they are flight risks.

But the defense convinced the judges that both men will “return to court if and when their presence is required,” Tarfusser said, adding that the procedures for their release will take some time to complete, allowing prosecutors to lodge an appeal.

A council representing victims of the conflict had asked the court to keep both men in detention for the duration of the appeal. “The defendants’ release may increase tensions in certain areas of Ivory Coast,” said Paolina Massidda, the victims’ main counsel.

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