By Sophie van Leeuwen
They seem to be having a good time discussing the Bemba trial in the ICC waiting room, drinking soft drinks from the ICC machine. About 50 supporters of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party travelled to The Hague for the closing statements against Jean-Pierre Bemba, their hero.
The end of the Bemba trial is near, and the excitement is growing. His supporters believe he will be freed, despite the severe accusations. “When Bemba is free, I’ll move back to Congo!”, shouts Marie Louise Efekele, Vice President of the MLC Benelux, while making a peace sign in front of the camera.
Photo:Bemba trial MLC Brusells (Sophie van Leeuwen/Justice Hub)
“We came from Brussels, Paris and the Netherlands,” says Jean-Jacques Mbungam, the MLC leader in Europe. He regularly visits the Congolese opposition leader in prison. “We believe this trial will be over in between January and March 2015.”
What about the new trial against Bemba and his lawyers, who are alleged to have tried to illegally tamper with witnesses in this trial? Mbungam nods his head. “That’s only a small trial. He can be out on bail.”
MLC president Bemba is accused of being responsible for rape, murder and pillage in the Central African Republic (in 2002-2003), where his troops were fighting in support of former president Patassé after a coup by Bozizé.
According to Bemba’s defence team, the prosecutor’s case is a complete failure. The ICC prosecutor’s accusations about Bemba leading his MLC rebels into Central African Republic are vague and witness testimonies are weak. Therefore the defence asked for Congo’s former vice president to be freed.
Photo:Bemba trial (Sophie van Leeuwen/Justice Hub)
An angry young man from Brussels wants to talk. Joseph Salomon Mbeka tells how emotional he is. His president has been in prison for six years his president and four years on trial. “He is a human being in the chaotic centre of Africa.”
The defence stated that Bozizé’s CAR troops committed crimes, not Bemba’s. Mbeke fully agrees. Bemba couldn’t have known about what happened in the CAR. He was not even in charge. “He is a businessman! A man of rules”, says Mbeke.
Now the Bemba fans will have to wait, probably for months, until the judges make a decision on their leader’s fate. After a day in court, they climb in their touring car. A poster on the front window says “Free Bemba”.
For an overview of the Bemba trial, click here.
Photo: Bemba bus (Sophie van Leeuwen/Justice Hub)