MUAMMAR Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, has appeared for the first time in a Libyan court on charges of undermining state security, a judicial official says. He was charged after a controversial June visit to Libya by an International Criminal Court team to help prepare his defence against the charges of crimes against humanity in the conflict that overthrew his father. Thursday’s hearing was held behind closed doors in Zintan, a hilltop town southwest of Tripoli where Saif has been in custody since his arrest in November 2011 after the uprising that ended Gaddafi’s 40-year rule.
It was closed to the media except to state broadcaster Al-Watania television, which broadcast footage of the hearing on its mid-afternoon news bulletin. Saif, 39, with a salt and pepper beard, looked well as he stood behind a metal grille in the courtroom. There was no soundtrack on the broadcast. “The first hearing in the trial of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on charges of undermining state security was held on Thursday,” said deputy prosecutor-general Taha Baraa in Tripoli. The charges were levelled against Saif after four ICC envoys went to Zintan in June and were detained for nearly a month, triggering a diplomatic row with The Hague-based court.
They were finally allowed to return home in July. The four included Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, who was accused of carrying a pen camera and attempting to give Seif a coded letter from his former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, who is wanted by Libyan authorities. The other ICC staffers were Taylor’s interpreter from Lebanon, Helen Assaf, and two colleagues, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard Esteban Peralta Losilla. All four have also been accused by Libya of undermining its national security.
Baraa said the trial was adjourned to May 2 as time was needed to inform the ICC staffers of the charges against them, and to “designate a lawyer for Saif”. Thursday’s hearing came as the ICC mulls a Libyan request to allow Saif, and former Libyan spy chief Abdullah Senussi, to be tried at home instead of in The Hague. The ICC, mandated by the UN Security Council to investigate the Libyan conflict, issued arrest warrants in June 2011 for both Saif and Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity. Lawyers for the two accused have said they will not get a fair trial in Libya.