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New Defense Witness Gives All Evidence in Closed Session

The tenth defense witness in the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba today took to the witness stand, but all of his evidence was heard in closed session.

Going by the pseudonym ‘Witness D04-55,’ this individual was granted in-court protective measures, including image and voice distortion of public broadcasts of his testimony in order to protect his identity. Presiding Judge Sylvia Steiner issued the order on the protective measures in closed session.

Prior to the start of his testimony this morning, the witness expressed concerns about his safety and that of his family. “It is my personal conviction that I should have complete closed session,” he said.

Defense Lawyer Aimé Kilolo-Musamba then requested judges for leave to turn into closed session for his initial questioning of the witness. The hearing continued in closed session for the rest of the day.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the court based in The Hague for failing to stop or punish crimes allegedly committed by his troops who took part in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). Prosecutors charge that his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops carried out widespread murder, rape, and pillaging during their deployment in the neighboring country. Mr. Bemba has pleaded not guilty to three war crimes and two crimes against humanity.

The trial that started in November 2010 is being heard by Judges Steiner, Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch. Numerous witnesses have appeared in the trial with protective measures in order to keep their identities secret so as to avoid potential reprisal attacks.

Hearings are scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.