Since his capture in November, Saif al-Islam, the second and most prominent son of the late and deposed Libyan leader Muammar el-Gaddafi, has been held in what was formerly a living room in a compound in Zintan, a mountain town about 100 miles southeast of the capital of Tripoli. The Guardian reports that Fred Abraham of Human Rights Watch has been allowed to interview Saif, and says that he “looked well” and is fed three times a day.
Saif is denied access to television, radio and the internet as well as all visitors, including lawyers. He also has yet to be told what he is being charged with. As a result, the man who supported his dictator father in violently cracking down on pro-democratic protests that began last February ago in Libya has become a cause for international human rights.
The ICC Claims Primacy to Try Saif al-Islam
Back in June, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Saif’s arrest on the charges of crimes against humanity, based on Saif’s role in ordering the repression of pro-democratic protesters. A warrant was also issued for his late father and for the former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi, who is still at large. After Saif’s capture, the ICC had demanded that he be handed over to The Hague to be tried, on the grounds that the National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya’s interim government, cannot grant him a fair trial.
Abdurrahim El-Keib, the new prime minister of Libya, had promised that Saif would receive a fair trial, says Al Jazeera. Today, January 10, was the deadline from ICC to clarify Saif’s legal status; the NTC has said that it needs more time and the ICC has extended the deadline until January 23. The NTC has insisted that Saif will be tried in Libya. As the Guardian explains:
Should Libya go ahead with a trial, unsanctioned by the ICC and without international participation, it will pose a problem for both the UK and France, who backed the rebels with Nato air strikes, special forces and diplomatic support. Both David Cameron and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, invested political capital in justifying their intervention in Libya, arguing that the new regime will mark a break with the country’s authoritarian past.
At the time of Saif’s arrest by the Zintan militia (one of the country’s most powerful), El-Keib had said that this would “turn the page on the phase of revolution.” But the NTC has dragged its feet about Saif’s case and about an investigation of the killing of Gaddafi as well. Tunisia has so far refused to extradite Gaddafi’s former prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, on the grounds that there are no guarantees that he will not be tortured once back in Libya.
Saif’s current circumstances under constant armed guard in a room with a dirty carpet in Zintan are in marked contrast to the playboy lifestyle — including a mansion in London and lavish parties with celebrities as guests — he was known to live while his father was in power. While Saif said that he would promote democratic reform in Libya, he backed his father fully when the protests broke out in Libya last February and made a number of ”diatribes” against the rebels via state television. According to the Guardian, he is thought to have “damaging secrets relating to some of those who continue to hold powerful positions in Libya,” as well as, possibly, information about the Scottish authorities’ decision to free the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009.
Saif’s sister, Aisha, who is now in exile in Algeria, has hired Israeli lawyer Nick Kaufman, a war crimes specialist, to demand that Gaddafi’s death be investigated.
While Saif is by no means a beloved figure, Libyans have been increasingly frustrated with the NTC. Protests have broken out, accusing it of being both incompetent and secretive and demanding more transparency. Besides Saif, more than 7,000 prisoners are held in makeshift prisons throughout Libya, says the Guardian; they have also not had access to lawyers or to a trial.
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Photo of Libyans celebrating Gaddafi's death in October by magharebia