By Senior Staff Writer
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has demanded that Libya frees with immediate effect an Australian lawyer detained last Thursday while visiting her client, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son and heir to the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.
A four-member International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation was been detained in the western mountain town of Zintan after one of its lawyers, Australian Melinda Taylor, was found to be carrying documents regarded as suspicious for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a Libyan lawyer and a militia said Saturday. The lawyer and her interpreter for the ICC now face 45 days in detention in Libya while investigations into their meeting with Muammar Gaddafi’s captured son continue, the prosecutor-general’s office said on Monday. ”The order has been given to put them in detention for 45 days,” Taha Baara of the prosecutor-general’s office said.
He said Taylor and her female interpreter would be kept in a “detention facility” belonging to the justice ministry, without elaborating. Alajmi Ali Ahmed al-Atiri, head of the Zintan brigade which captured Saif al-Islam in November and is holding him, said the women’s two male colleagues wanted to stay with them “out of solidarity” and the four had been moved to the facility from a guesthouse.
Prime Minister Gillard said: “We are calling on the Libyan government to expedite the end of Ms Taylor’s detention. We want to see Ms Taylor’s detention come to an end as soon as possible.” The ICC president has demanded their immediate release and court representatives flew to Tripoli on Sunday to try to resolve the issue. A Libyan lawyer has said the suspicious documents included letters from Saif al-Islam’s former right-hand man Mohammed Ismail, as well as blank documents signed by the prisoner. Atiri has said “spying and recording” materials were found when members of the delegation were searched.
Deputy foreign minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz earlier said the ICC representatives were holding talks with the prosecutor-general and were expected to visit their colleagues on Tuesday. Reflecting Libya’s problem of powerful local militias and a weak central government, the Zintan brigade said on Saturday it would not agree to the government’s request that it free the four ICC staff before questioning them. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Abdel Aziz had confirmed in a telephone call that Taylor was “being held by Libyan authorities in Zintan and would be detained pending further inquiries”.
Libya’s state news agency LANA quoted a government spokesman as saying he hoped the ICC would cooperate with Libyan authorities in a “neutral investigation”. “We expect the ICC to understand Libya’s position,” he said. Campaign group Human Rights Watch called on Libyan authorities to do everything in their power to ensure the release of the delegation. “It is deeply disturbing that court staff would be held while on an authorised, privileged visit to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi,” Richard Dicker, the International Justice Program Director at HRW, said in a statement.
Saif al-Islam is wanted by the ICC for crimes during the uprising that ended his father’s 42-year rule last year. Libya’s new rulers insist he should be tried in his home country. The ICC has previously expressed concern at the conditions under which he is being held. Human rights groups question whether Libya’s justice system can meet standards of international law.