TRIPOLI, Libya: The son of Libya’s former dictator Moammar Gadhafi missed a court hearing Thursday after the militia holding him refused to send him to the capital, underscoring the continued weakness of the central government after the country’s civil war.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the most prominent figure of his father’s regime, appeared for a separate hearing instead in the western town of Zintan, where a militia has held him since the end of the war. Footage aired on state television showed the slim, bearded Seif al-Islam standing and sitting in a cage inside the courtroom, wearing a blue prison jump suit.
A judge there adjourned Seif al-Islam’s trial until Dec. 12 over a lack of evidence.
Al-Seddik al-Sur of the state prosecutor’s office told reporters Thursday that authorities had asked for “justification” as to why Seif al-Islam was not transferred from Zintan as planned.
The Tripoli trial involves 38 former regime officials, including notorious spymaster Abdallah Senoussi, but only 36 were in attendance. In addition to Seif al-Islam, another unidentified defendant was not there.
Thursday’s hearing was to present the prosecutors’ case to the judge who will then evaluate its merits and possibly order more investigations before setting the official charges. The charges are expected to revolve around the killings during the civil war in 2011.
State television showed at least a dozen men sitting in blue prison suits in a row behind bars surrounded by baseball cap-wearing security guards in the Tripoli courtroom. The court itself otherwise appeared empty.
A few dozen people protested outside the courthouse, mostly family members of those who died during the war as well as during the years of Gadhafi’s rule. Women carried portraits of their dead sons while others plastered pictures of them on the building’s fence.
Seif al-Islam, the only member of the family to go on trial so far, faces charges from the Zintan militia that captured him as he was trying to flee south to Niger.
International institutions and rights groups have criticized the trial conditions facing Seif al-Islam.
“Our main concern is he is still being held by a militia in Zintan outside the authority of the state,” said Hanan Salah, who follows the case for Human Rights Watch.
She said the situation for Seif al-Islam was indicative of the shortcomings of justice in Libya, where due process is often not followed, lawyers have been intimidated and detention facilities are poorly supervised.
“In general, we have concerns over the facilities that are not under [the] full custody of the state. This is where we have documented serious abuses,” she said, adding that Seif al-Islam had yet to see a lawyer for the Tripoli-based trial.
Successive Libyan governments have failed to impose law and order in the country since rebel forces overthrew Gadhafi and killed him. Authorities instead rely on heavily armed militia groups, initially drawn from the rebellion, for security, although some began challenging the government as it struggles with a transition to democracy.
In his briefing to the Security Council Monday, U.N. Libya representative Tarek Mitri warned of the increasing divisions in the country putting strain on its politics. He also warned about the treatment of prisoners.
Gadhafi’s son and the spy chief are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of murder and the persecution of civilians during the early days of the uprising. If convicted there, they would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The ICC does not recognize the death penalty.
This summer, judges from The Hague-based court said Libya could not give Seif al-Islam a fair trial and asked authorities to hand him over.