By Hadi Fornaji
Tripoli, 17 January
Saif Al-Islam faced new charges in Zintan today.
Taha Bara, the official spokesman for the Attorney-general, confirmed in an interview with the Wataniya TV Channel, that a Zintan court had begun proceedings against Saif, on the grounds that he had been planning to escape from prison with the help of his ICC defence team. He has also been charged with harming state security and insulting Libya’s new flag. The proceedings took place in a secret session, with no prior announcement.
Bara pointed out that the new charges were not connected with the revolution. It is reported that seven other suspects were also charged, four of whom are outside the country, including Australian Melinda Taylor. All four have been ordered to return to Libya.
The charges follow the June visit of Taylor to his Zintan prison, during which the Australian and her Lebanese translator, Helene Assaf, were accused smuggling in documents and a camera. Both women were detained for three weeks, along with two colleagues, a Russian, Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard, Esteban Peralta Losilla. They had refused to leave Zintan without them.
Amongst the documents were said to be letters from Saif’s fugitive former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, with whom the government believes Taylor had been in contact.
Blank letters marked only with Saif’s signature were also reported to have been found on the lawyer, as well as a note in which he complained of mistreatment at the hands of his captors and the absence of the rule of law in Libya.
Assaf, was alleged to have been found in possession of a “spy camera”.
The ICC personnel were only released after the head of the ICC President Sang-Hyun Song issued an apology and promised to investigate the allegations. No result of that internal ICC investigation has yet been published. However Taylor has since gone on record saying that her own detention demonstrated that Saif could not expect to receive a fair trial in Libya.
These new charges against Saif, along with Taylor and Assaf, come just six days before the Libyan government was supposed to respond to an ICC request that it clarify its argument that Saif should be tried in Libya, and that a proper case was being prepared against him. The government had indicated that pre-trial hearings against both Saif and former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, on charges of crimes against humanity, were likely to begin in February.
The unexpected new charges brought against Saif today threaten to to delay the main trial on crimes against humanity. Also, since it is alleged that Taylor and at least one of her colleagues were involved in trying to help Saif escape, the position of the ICC itself might be compromised.