The son of the late strongman Moammar Kadafi appeared in a Libyan court Thursday for the first time, facing charges tied to the controversial detention of his attorney last year.
Seif Islam Kadafi has been accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, but Libya has argued that it should be able to try him in its own courts. The debate has revolved around whether Libya can offer Kadafi a fair trial in such a politically charged case.
The hearing Thursday, however, involved allegations surrounding an International Criminal Court attorney who came to see Kadafi last year.
Concern about the Kadafi case was heightened last summer after his ICC defense attorney, Melinda Taylor, was accused of spying and detained along with other ICC staff members in the remote town of Zintan.
Libyan officials claimed that Taylor handed Kadafi a coded letter from a former aide and was carrying a pen camera when she visited him behind bars. Freed after more than three weeks in detention, Taylor said that Libyan authorities had seized protected documents and misled them about whether the meeting would be monitored, saying the episode showed that Kadafi couldn’t get justice in his country.
Kadafi appeared Thursday in a Zintan court on charges tied to the dispute, including undermining state security, trying to escape from prison and insulting the new national flag, the Libyan state news agency reported. It gave no details about the alleged insult and escape plans.
The trial was adjourned until May. Deputy prosecutor general Taha Baraa told Agence France-Presse that the time was needed to inform Taylor and other court staffers of the charges against them, and to designate an attorney for Kadafi. Taylor could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
"The allegation against Melinda Taylor is completely trumped-up and false," said Ben Emmerson, the attorney representing Abdullah Senussi, the former Libyan spy chief who faces charges similar to those against Kadafi.
The hearing again shows “there is absolutely no prospect of either of these two men having any form of fair trial in Libya,” he said, arguing that both should be turned over to the ICC.
The Thursday hearing did not deal with the broader charges against Kadafi. The ICC is still weighing whether Libya will be able to try him on those charges, which include indirectly perpetrating murder and persecution.
Though the Libyan court system is still “embryonic” and lacks investigative muscle, “I think it’s very important for Libya to try it,” said M. Cherif Bassiouni, the former chairman of the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry in Libya. “But what is needed is not a solution of either going to The Hague or staying in Libya as things are. There should be a massive effort to assist Libya.”
The bigger question is whether Libya can guarantee the safety of such a sensitive trial, said William Lawrence, North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. Armed militias of different stripes control much of the country, including the militiamen who seized Kadafi and are still holding him in Zintan. There is also concern that Kadafi could escape.
“Ultimately, where this trial is held depends more on the Libyan security situation than the quality of the Libyan judicial system,” Lawrence said.
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