ICC judges order release of Bemba        

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have ordered the release of former Democratic Republic of Congo rebel leader and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Last week, appeal judges overturned his 2016 conviction on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bemba is yet to be sentenced for the separate charge of bribing witnesses.

Judges ruled that he could join his family in Belgium, while he awaited sentencing in that case.

He had already served more than 80% of the maximum possible sentence of five years for bribing witnesses, so it would be ‘disproportionate’ to keep him in custody, judges said.

Bemba was arrested in Belgium in 2008 after the ICC issued an international arrest warrant for him.

He was accused of failing to stop his rebel forces from killing and raping people in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Bemba was convicted in 2016, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The trial was the first before the ICC to focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war.

He is expected to contest presidential elections.

Bemba waged a long legal battle to overturn his conviction and last week appeal judges finally ruled in his favour.

They said he could not be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by his troops.

Human rights group Amnesty International said his acquittal was a ‘huge blow’ for the victims of a ‘horrifying campaign of rape and sexual violence’./BBC Africa Live

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