An International Criminal Court lawyer who was detained by government forces in Libya for three weeks after meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has said it will be impossible for him to get a fair trial in his home country.
Melinda Taylor, who was assigned to assist the son of Libya’s slain former leader Muammar Gaddafi, was imprisoned in the western city of Zintan along with three colleagues last month after being accused of smuggling documents that her captors said threatened national security.
“These recent events have completely underscored that it will be impossible for Mr. Gaddafi to be tried in an independent and impartial manner in Libyan courts,” she told reporters in The Hague on Friday. “The rights of my client were irrevocably prejudiced during my visit to Zintan.”
Taylor works for the ICC’s office for the defence, which represents suspects in the initial stages of their trial, and was visiting Gaddafi to advise him on his choice of defence lawyer.
Her arrest came as the court, which is based in the Netherlands, was preparing to issue its opinion about whether Libya is capable of offering Gaddafi a fair trial for war crimes he allegedly committed during the revolt that toppled his father last year. He denies the charges.
Libya refused to extradite him, saying it would prefer to try him in its own courts, and has challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction.
Libya’s erstwhile rebels have made efforts to restore security and the rule of law to the country after toppling Muammar Gaddafi, who was murdered in October shortly after being captured in Sirte, his hometown. But the process has proven difficult, and only one official from the former regime has faced trial, while thousands of other detainees and suspected Gaddafi loyalists remain held without charge.
After meeting Gaddafi on June 7, Taylor spent three weeks in a prison in Zintan, the main city in Libya’s Nafusa Mountains. Gaddafi is being held at a secret location by Zintan militiamen, who refuse to give him up to the governing National Transitional Council in Tripoli.
They say Gaddafi may try to escape and worry that some in the new government will try to have him killed to avoid being implicated in wrongdoing in testimony Gaddafi may give.
Authorities in Zintan, which is only loosely under the control of the NTC, made it impossible for Taylor to defend Gaddafi effectively, she added, confiscating privileged documents and listening in on conversations meant to be confidential.
Libya is not a signatory to the charter that established the court, but the ICC was granted jurisdiction by the United Nations Security Council last November.
Taylor and her colleagues from Lebanon, Russia and Spain were only released when the ICC issued a carefully-worded apology to Libyan authorities.
The ICC employees were held in a prison surrounded by tanks for almost three weeks and were allowed one five-minute telephone conversation with their families, Taylor said.
Libyan authorities accused Taylor of smuggling documents that endangered national security, charges she denied.
On Friday, Taylor said all the documents were legitimate and relevant to Gaddafi’s case, and that Libya had violated his right to privileged contact with a lawyer.
An internal inquiry at the court is looking into her imprisonment.