Rwanda: ASF Calls for Immediate Release of Bemba Lawyers

Arusha — Lawyers without Borders (Avocats sans Frontières, ASF) is calling for the immediate release of Congolese lawyer Aimé Kilolo and his assistant Jean-Jacques Mangenda, currently jailed by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for suspected witness tampering.

In a communiqué received by Hirondelle Thursday, ASF "urgently calls on the International Criminal Court to immediately release our colleagues and to entrust to an independent authority an investigation into the alleged facts".

Kilolo is defence counsel for Congolese Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba, whom the ICC is trying for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. On November 20, Judge Cuno Tarfusser issued an arrest warrant for Bemba, Kilolo, Mangenda, Congolese MP Fidèle Babala Wandu and a defence witness, all suspected of witness tampering in the Bemba case.

"It is shocking that the arrest warrant of November 20, 2013, justifies the detention of our colleagues by saying they might flee, whereas they have their respective main residences in Brussels and The Hague," writes ASF. The lawyers' NGO says a summons to appear would have been enough because "deprivation of liberty can only be ordered under strict conditions which are not met in this case".

"It is all the more surprising given that other individuals suspected of much more serious crimes are appearing voluntarily" continues ASF, alluding to three Kenyans charged by the ICC, including President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. "The two arrests were carried out in the presence of investigators and members of the prosecutor's office without the presence of a member of the Bar in The Hague."

The communiqué stresses that "lawyers have special protection when it comes to detention, searches and seizure of documents covered by professional confidentiality, the protection of which must be guaranteed by the presence of a member of the Bar".

ASF says it is "worried to note that the arrest of our colleagues was carried out by the prosecution (of the ICC) which is a party in the main case against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, thus effectively removing its adversaries".

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