TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya expects the International Criminal Court to agree that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the most prominent son of Libya’s late leader, can be tried in Libya, where he could face the death penalty, the justice minister said on Thursday.
The Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam after prosecutors accused him and others of involvement in the killing of protesters during the revolt that eventually toppled Muammar Gaddafi in August.
Minister of Justice Ali Humaida Ashour told Reuters the ICC had accepted in principle a request by Libyan authorities to try Saif al-Islam and would make a final decision within weeks.
“We expect the court (ICC) will accept that Saif is tried in Libya,” he told Reuters in an interview in the Libyan capital.
“The Libyan judiciary is the one that has the jurisdiction to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi because the Libyan judiciary is the base and the ICC complements it.”
The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said in November that he was happy for Libya to hold the trial, even though he had no guarantee that it would be fair.
But the decision rests with ICC judges who, shortly after Moreno-Ocampo’s comments, said that if Libya wished to try Saif al-Islam, it must submit a formal challenge to the ICC and answer questions about his arrest and conditions of detention.
On Tuesday the ICC said it would give Libya until January 23 to provide its answers, including information about his mental and physical health. On Thursday, after Ashour’s comments, it said there was no change in its stance.
Ashour said Saif al-Islam would be tried on charges of mismanagement of public funds, homicide and rape, adding that if convicted of homicide, he could face the death penalty.
When asked to comment on an appeal by Human Rights Watch to the Libyan authorities last month to allow Saif al-Islam to have immediate access to a lawyer, he said: “Any defendant has the right to have a lawyer during interrogation.”
“International and legal standards will be taken into account and the trial will be held according to Libyan law,” he said, adding that Saif would be allowed to hire a lawyer of his choice.
He said the trial, which is expected to be mostly open to the public, would be conducted by an ordinary Libyan court, not a special tribunal.
He added: “A courtroom will be set up for the trial that will accommodate the international organizations and the media.”
Asked about the timing, he said the trial would take place after the interrogation was completed and evidence collected.
Saif al-Islam was captured by a powerful militia from Zintan that still holds him in an undisclosed location, but Ashour said that he was under the control of the public prosecutor.
Libya is still largely controlled by dozens of militias that have carved up the country into rival fiefdoms, with many showing little interest in giving up their weapons and joining the military or police, or in taking up civilian jobs.
The chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said this month his government was facing difficulties reinstating Libya’s judiciary system due to a lack of security.
“If there’s no security, there will be no law, no development and no elections,” he told a gathering on January 3. “People are taking the law into their own hands.”
Ashour said the interior minister had assured him that the security forces were able to protect the courts and prisons.
Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Kevin Liffey