Saif Gaddafi should be a prisoner, not president

Saif Gaddafi should be a prisoner, not president
6 min read
16 Mar, 2018
Comment: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi will first have to deal with the judicial obstacle of being already criminally indicted by a Libyan court, writes Guma El-Gamaty.
Saif's father, Muammar Gaddafi criminalised the establishment of political parties in Libya [AFP]
According to his lawyer speaking at a press conference in Tunisia on 19 March, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi wants to stand for the next presidential elections in Libya.

It is ironic however, that Muammar Gaddafi's son now claims to support the notion of democratic elections, after having backed his father in criminalising the establishment of political parties, and denying the Libyan people the right to decide who leads the country through the ballot box.

Today, he wishes to stand for elections in Libya as a candidate for his own political party. 

Yet the question of whether someone who was part of Libya's dark past, can become part of its future, remains to be answered.

Saif Gaddafi, who was widely thought of as the heir to rule in Libya, sided with his father in trying to crush the Libyan uprising in February 2011 by force.

On 27 June 2011, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant, and demanded he stand trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity.

But instead of being arrested by the ICC, Saif Gaddafi was arrested on 19 November 2011 by a Libyan group in the south west of the country as he tried to flee Libya towards Niger. He was handed over and transferred to the city of Zintan, where he was held by a local militia called the Abubakr al-Siddiq battalion.  

For many, opting for Saif Gaddafi is akin to taking a journey back to Libya's dark past

While he was held in Zintan, Saif Gaddafi was put on trial in absentia by a Libyan court in Tripoli, and in July 2015, he was sentenced to death along with eight other senior Gaddafi regime figures.

To this day, the ICC is still demanding his handover. While back in 2012 the Libyan authorities and those holding Muammar Gaddafi's son maintained that Libya is not a signatory to the ICC's Rome statute, they insist on a trial for him in Libya by Libyan law for the crimes he allegedly committed there.

Read more: In Saif hands: Gaddafi's son to run for Libya president

Yet if he is now a free man inside Libya, nobody has raised the issue or demand of a retrial of Saif Gaddafi in person, as his first trial was in absentia.

In early June 2012, the ICC sent a four person team to meet with Saif Gaddafi in captivity in Zintan. The team was arrested immediately after meeting with him as one of the members, an Australian lawyer named as Melinda Taylor was accused of carrying documents for Gaddafi's son to sign.

These documents - it was rumoured - were likely to do with Saif Gaddafi giving signed attorney to some of his close aides, allowing them access to bank accounts abroad with large sums of money or estates, in order to use it to help get him out of Libya.

Libyans' freedom must not be jeopardised by the son of the tyrant under whom they suffered for 42 years

It is not clear if any Libyan government since has attempted to trace any large funds linked to Saif Gaddafi, or if any funds have been subject to UN freezing orders since 2011.

If Saif Gaddafi has accumulated large funds abroad that belong to the Libyan state, which he or his followers may draw on in the future to gain a political advantage, then these funds should be sought by Libyan authorities and, he will be liable for financial embezzlement.

In July 2016 there were many media reports that Saif Gaddafi had been released from his prison in Zintan and was thus a free man inside Libya. His lawyer, Karim Khan QC, told the media that "It has been confirmed and is now public that he was given his liberty on April 12," and Mr Khan went on to state that his client "is well and safe and he's in Libya". 

Yet less than a year later, in June 2017, it was again announced that Saif Gaddafi had been released from his prison in Zintan. Another lawyer, Khaled al-Zaidi, told the media in Tunisia that Muammar Gaddafi's son was freed, but preferred not to reveal his location for security reasons.

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In October 2017, Mr Zaidi told the media once again that his client was "working on politics from his base in Libya, with the tribes, with the cities, with the decision makers". He went on to state that "he's in a good health... in top condition. His medical and psychological conditions are good". 

An obvious question here is, if Saif Gaddafi was working with tribes, cities and decision makers in Libya; why then has no-one reported meeting or seeing him?

Following his supposed second release in June 2017, media reports and those allegedly speaking on his behalf have painted a confusing picture as to where Saif Gaddafi could be, assuming he left Zintan as a free man.

Some reports claimed he went to Albayda city in the east of Libya, where his mother's family come from and reside. However, this was never confirmed and is most unlikely, given that Haftar has total military control over the whole east of Libya, and there is no mutual trust between the two.

Saif Gaddafi sees Haftar as a traitor to his father, while Haftar potentially views him as a serious competitor to his own power ambitions.

If he has left Libya for a country that would not hand him to the ICC, then the ICC would have known of his whereabouts outside Libya, and demanded his handover.

Unless there is convincing footage proof that he is a free man, it seems very likely that Saif Gaddafi is still held in Zintan, and his movement is very restricted, despite official statements.

As for his chances of re-entering Libyan politics at the highest level, he will first have to deal with the judicial obstacle of being already criminally indicted by a Libyan court.

He will also face the reality that Libya and its people have already gone through momentous irreversible psychological change, where the freedom they gained at a high cost in 2011 and since, cannot be jeopardised by the son of the tyrant under whom they suffered for 42 years.

Saif Gaddafi is a highly divisive figure who will draw support from some Libyans, but who will be opposed by many more; those who see opting for him as taking a journey back to the dark past.

Guma El-Gamaty is a Libyan academic and politician who heads the Taghyeer Party in Libya and a member of the UN-backed Libyan political dialogue process. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Guma_el_gamaty

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.