BEIRUT

Middle East

ICC staffers held in Libya released

  • Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor (R) and her interpreter from Lebanon, Helen Assaf (L) are seen following their release from detention in Zintan, a town southwest of Tripoli, on July 2, 2012. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA

ZINTAN, Libya: Libya released on Monday four International Criminal Court staffers who had been held for nearly four weeks on allegations that they shared documents that could harm national security with Moammar Gadhafi's imprisoned son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi.

As they were released, ICC President Sang-Hyun Song, a South Korean judge, apologized to the Libyan government and people for the incident and promised an investigation into the allegations. Song flew to Libya for the handover.

Seif al-Islam was the most senior member of the ousted Gadhafi regime to be captured in last year's civil war. He was being groomed to succeed his father and faces charges by the ICC of crimes against humanity. He was captured by a militia in western Libya after his father was taken captive and then killed last October following more than 40 years as Libya's eccentric, authoritarian ruler.

Libya's new leadership accused Seif al-Islam of torturing and killing rebels, as well as other crimes.

His trial has been at the heart of a dispute between the ICC and the Libyan government. Libyan authorities have challenged the ICC's right to try Seif al-Islam, saying the international court is a tribunal of last resort, intended to try suspects from countries that cannot or will not prosecute them.

The court had expressed concern that Libya's judiciary is not yet ready to give Seif al-Islam Gadhafi a fair trial. The ICC judges ruled on June 1 that Libya doesn't have to hand over Seif al-Islam at least until a ruling on Tripoli's challenge.

The Libyan lawyer who represents Libya's interests at the ICC, Ahmed Al-Jehani, said the mission staffers were released because they have diplomatic immunity.

Libyan authorities say they placed defense attorney Melinda Taylor and her Lebanese translator under house arrest after they visited Seif al-Islam in prison in the town of western town of Zintan and allegedly shared documents that could harm the country's national security. Seif al-Islam was captured by rebels from Zintan and has been held in the town ever since.

Al-Jehani said state prosecutors accused Taylor of having Seif al-Islam sign three blank pieces of paper, but they could not press charges because she has diplomatic immunity. Al-Jehani said Libyan authorities do not know why she wanted his signature.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Aziz said the staffers will leave to Tripoli and then Italy later in the day.

Al-Jehani, who is also the Libyan prosecutor leading the case against Gadhafi's son, said they were in good health. He said the case has now been closed in Libya and the staffers will not come back.

"Definitely they are free and they will not be coming back to Libya," he said.

Al-Jehani said the detention of the ICC staff has further complicated relations with Libya.

"The relationship has become more difficult and more unstable," he said, adding that Libya would likely press ahead with its case against Seif al-Islam after the country's first nationwide elections this week to choose a parliament.

 
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