(TRIPOLI, Libya) — Libya’s new government has rebuffed the international body seeking to try Saif al-Islam Gadhafi for war crimes, instead showing off a new, specially built courtroom in Tripoli where it says the former Libyan strongman will stand trial instead.
“We will respect the international law but we do have a lot of respect for our Libyan law and I guarantee you there will be no problem,” said interim prime minister Abdurrahim el-Keeb on Tuesday.
Last week the International Criminal Court, a Netherlands-based war crimes body established by the United Nations, ordered Libya to hand over the 39-year-old, who has been held prisoner by a militia since his capture last fall just weeks after his father’s death. The ICC said Tuesday that Libya had asked for a delay until after the country can hold its own trial. Saif faces charges of corruption, murder and rape and could be sentenced to death.
The Libyan government told the ICC that it “regards the trial of Saif al-Islam…as a matter of the highest national importance,” according to an ICC statement.
Human rights groups have asked that the Libyans turn Saif over to the international court. “This clear ruling by the ICC judges should effectively bring an end to the long-running saga over the fate of Saif al-Islam,” said Marek Marczynski, head of Amnesty International’s International Justice Team, on April 5. “Libya must act on the ICC’s decision and surrender Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi without further delay. An unfair trial before a Libyan court where the accused could face the death penalty is no way to guarantee justice and accountability.”
But the Libyan government has converted a former military school into a courtroom instead, complete with carpeting and a black wire cage for defendants, and has painted the building in the colors of the new Libyan flag. Meanwhile, Saif is still being held in Zintan, more than 100 miles from Tripoli.
The ICC said Wednesday that Saif had told ICC officials who met with him in Zintan in March that he wanted to be tried in Libya before being shipped to The Hague.
“I hope I can be tried here in my country, whether they will execute me or not,” he told two ICC officials, according to a report dated March 5.
But the report also said Saif seemed to be making the statement for the benefit of the Libyan prosecutor, who was present during the interview.
The report also said that Saif seemed to indicate nonverbally that he had been mistreated, pointing to two damaged fingers on his left hand and a missing tooth.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio