The International Criminal Court (ICC) halted its order for the immediate release of Cote d’Ivoire’s former President Laurent Gbagbo on Friday, just days after acquitting him of charges of crimes against humanity.
The court’s appeals judges in The Hague ordered that Gbagbo remain in prison for the time being and scheduled a new hearing on his release for Feb. 1.
The 73-year-old was acquitted on Wednesday ahead of the trial’s scheduled ending due to lack of evidence.
The prosecution then appealed against the order for his release, fearing he would not return for a possible appeal process.
Mr Gbagbo had been charged with human rights violations committed after the West African nation’s disputed 2010 presidential election, which saw 3,000 people killed and about half a million others displaced.
Mr Gbagbo, who said the charges against him had been politically motivated, has been defending himself before the ICC since 2016.
He is the first former head of state to have been tried by the ICC, he ruled Cote d’Ivoire from 2000-2011.
In Abidjan, commercial capital, activist Mercelin Kouakou said: “It is with a lot of pain and sadness that I receive this news.
“I have faith that President Laurent Gbagbo and Minister Charles Goude will be back among us, and that together we will walk the path of reconciliation,” she said, speaking in front of Simone Gbagbo’s residence.
Mr Gbagbo’s acquittal was deplored by victims’ groups representing those who died in violence during the 2010 election, in which Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to his rival Alassane Ouattara.
Hundreds of thousands fled the unrest that prosecutors blamed on Gbagbo and victims fear his return home could revive hostilities in Abidjan.
In their earlier ruling to free the men, the trial judges said the prosecution case was “exceptionally weak” and that it was unlikely the acquittals would be overturned.
The appeals chamber backed the prosecution arguments that Mr Gbagbo might not return for future court hearings if he was set free.
Prosecutors said that his wife, who is also the subject of an ICC arrest warrant, has been living openly in Cote d’Ivoire.