Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Confusion on Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s fate points to Libya’s woes

Released or not? Mixed messages on whether the son of the late Colonel Gaddafi has been freed under a general amnesty highlights again the division of authority in Libya, writes Kamel Abdallah

Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi
Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi
Al-Ahram Weekly

In recent days, defence counsel for Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and Al-Ajami Al-Atiri, the commander of a militia in Zintan, again brought the name of Seif Al-Islam to the forefront in Libya.

Gaddafi’s defence counsel asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to drop all charges against their client, while Al-Atiri announced he had released Gaddafi. Atiri has been guarding Seif Al-Islam for five years, since the latter was stopped by a militia while trying to flee across the southern Libya desert in the wake of the fall of his father’s regime in October 2011 following a popular uprising against his 42-year rule.

Seif Al-Islam’s return to the headlines in Libya sparked broad domestic and international reactions, but the positions of Gaddafi’s lawyer and Al-Atiri, the leader of the group that has been detaining Seif Al-Islam, remained ambiguous.

Al-Atiri and Gaddafi’s defence counsel appeared to take similar positions despite their divergent stances on Gaddafi, and they gave conflicting statements on the timing of Gaddafi’s release and place of residence. Gaddafi’s legal status also remains unclear.

Paradoxically, the hawks faction of the revolutionary committees, which was Seif Al-Islam’s foe under his father’s rule (they managed to stymie his 2006 reform project and accused him of laying the groundwork for the uprising against his father’s rule), is now defending him. Meanwhile, Al-Atiri is speaking about respect for law, although he refused to turn over Seif Al-Islam to the legitimate authorities years ago, before the current division of the country.

One of Seif Al-Islam’s lawyers, Khaled Al-Zaydi, told France 24 that his client was released 6 July in Zintan pursuant to Law 6/2014, issued by the House of Representatives in Tobruk. Commonly known as the “general amnesty law”, the statute was issued to mark the Eid holiday following Ramadan. Al-Zaydi said Gaddafi was in a safe place in Libya, suggesting he had left Zintan, but another member of Seif Al-Islam’s legal team, British lawyer Karim Khan, told the same outlet that Gaddafi had been released 12 April. Declining to say whether he had spoken to Gaddafi, he said that he is “well and safe and in Libya”. Khan said Gaddafi was released under an amnesty issued by former justice minister Al-Mabrouk Ghraira — who died 1 June — “wholly consistent with Libyan law”, according to Khan. Khan added that he would ask the ICC to drop all charges against Seif Al-Islam on the grounds that “it is prohibited to try an individual twice for the same offense”.

Al-Ajami Al-Atiri, the commander of the Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Brigade, told France 24 that Gaddafi was released under the general amnesty law issued by the Libyan parliament and ratified by the Justice Ministry, but he refused to confirm or deny, for “security reasons”, whether he had actually left the prison.

“We, as the body responsible for the Rehabilitation and Reform Authority in Zintan, and despite the chaos and killing in Libya, are nevertheless eager to implement any law issued by a legislative and legal body in Libya to the letter,” Al-Atiri added. “We are eager to implement laws and respect state authority, even if this state is weak.”

The statements of Al-Zaydi, Khan and Al-Atiri give conflicting versions of the time of Gaddafi’s release and his legal status. Seif Al-Islam was sentenced to death by firing squad in absentia on 28 July 2015, along with other officials from his father’s regime. Those holding him in Zintan have refused to turn him over to the judicial authorities in Tripoli, which is under the control of their political opponents, preferring to keep Seif Al-Islam as a bargaining chip. They previously declared their rejection of Gaddafi’s trial in Tripoli and subsequently petitioned the ICC to drop charges against him following the death sentence. In other words, the concerned parties are toying with the fate of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi amid the chaos that has engulfed the country.

The London-based Libya 24 channel, run by a person close to Seif Al-Islam, published a document 28 June purporting to have been issued by late Justice Minister Ghraira, of the Abdullah Al-Thinni government, on 10 April. The document, addressed to the chief plenary prosecutor of Zintan, asked that Gaddafi be released under the general amnesty issued by the parliament. Ministry officials alternately denied and affirmed the authenticity of the document, according to two anonymous sources who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The ministry has no jurisdiction on the release of Seif Al-Gaddafi, or even a release request,” said one source in the Justice Ministry with the interim Libyan government in Bayda, in eastern Libya. The source denied that the ministry intended to turn Gaddafi over to the ICC.

The source, who requested anonymity, added: “Even if the former minister made a legal error, the ministry will not request the release of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi.” He said he did not know the intent of revealing Minister Ghraira’s letter only days after his death.

The ministry in Bayda issued a statement 29 June denying the authenticity of the letter attributed to the late minister, but another source in the ministry confirmed its authenticity, pointing to confusion over the step among the interim government in Bayda and the House of Representatives.

The letter, dated 10 April 2016 from Ghraira to the head of the Zintan Plenary Prosecution, states: “Based on a request submitted from notables and sheikhs of the social council of the Gadadifa tribes on 20 March, and having reviewed the file of defendant Seif Al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi, it is requested that the defendant be released, pursuant to the amnesty law and in respect for the rule of law.”

The Libyan Al-Wasat Website reported 29 June that a source with the Reform and Rehabilitation Authority in Zintan affirmed the authenticity of Gaddafi’s release order, which was circulated by activists on social media. According to the source, “the document is sent to the city of Zintan despite its lack of jurisdiction.” The source continued: “It should have been addressed to the public prosecutor because he has jurisdiction.” But the source also affirmed that Seif Al-Islam “is still in prison and was not released”.

A statement issued by the Rehabilitation and Reform Authority in Zintan on 29 June also pointed to “statement No 11 from the Justice Ministry, in which it denied sending a letter to the Zintan prosecution and a copy of it to the Reform and Rehabilitation Authority in Zintan on 10 April 2016.” The authority said it had received “the aforementioned letter. We contacted the late justice minister Ghraira directly and he confirmed the authenticity of the letter.” The authority urged the Justice Ministry to “review its records”, before the ministry again fell silent about the affair.

On 8 July, Reuters quoted a military source in Zintan who said that Gaddafi “is still detained in his prison”. This was confirmed the following day in a statement issued by the military council, municipal council and the Zintan high tribal council, all of which denied Gaddafi’s release in a joint statement. “He will not be released regardless of audio or visual statements,” the statement said. “Action will be taken in accordance with legal procedures that uphold the rights of the people and the defendant in furtherance of justice.”

This indicates a division among the bodies in charge in Zintan on Gaddafi’s fate due to the larger division in the country at present.

The ICC, in a statement released on its Website 30 June, urged the Libyan authorities to arrest Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi and turn him over to the court immediately. The presidential council of the national accord government in Tripoli subsequently issued a statement expressing concern at Al-Atiri’s statements on Gaddafi’s release, which it called “irresponsible” and said they “cemented the notion that the defendant and all those who committed such crimes, whether in the time of the former regime or crimes committed after the fall of this regime, can elude punishment.”

In a statement released Sunday, the council said that Gaddafi was arrested in connection with cases pending before Libyan courts on charges of crimes against humanity. The council said that such crimes have no statute of limitation and are not subject to general or special amnesties under international conventions and international human rights law.

It expressed its full willingness to cooperate with international organisations, particularly the ICC, in accordance with resolutions issued by the UN Security Council and international conventions, provided they do not contravene Libyan laws and respect state sovereignty, and it pledged to meet all of Libya’s international obligations in this respect.

The statement called for “rational judgement and not falling prey to circumstantial influences or personal interests that could ultimately erode the rights of victims to redress in a fair trial.” The presidential council’s statement praised the statement issued by the Zintan councils that affirmed that Gaddafi remained in prison and had not been released. It reiterated “its extreme concern in this matter insofar as it related to the principle of Libyan state sovereignty,” adding that it was keen to prevent “impunity for criminals, realise criminal justice on its territory and among its citizens, and serve the truth in it”.

Lawyer Wessam Al-Saghir said that information about Seif Al-Islam’s release “was unconfirmed” and no information had reached the judicial authorities suggesting he had been released. He considered Al-Atiri’s remarks “unlawful, erroneous, and divorced from respect for state institutions and the law. If they were committed to the law, they would have turned him over to the judicial authorities.”

Al-Saghir said that the general amnesty law is “illegitimate and illegal because it was issued by a non-competent authority since the Libyan judiciary nullified the electoral basis of the House of Representatives”, referring to the ruling from the Constitutional Court circuit on 6 November 2014 that overturned Paragraph 11 of the February Proposals, under which the parliamentary elections were held.

Al-Saghir added that the amnesty law “only applies to final judgements not subject to appeal”, while Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s case is still pending before the courts.

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