Officials in Zintan have denied reports that Saif al-Islam was released from his prison in the West Libyan town, after two of his lawyers claimed he was freed in April on the orders of the Interim Government and on the basis of an amnesty law.
Lawyers Khaled Zaydi, in Libya, and Karim Khan, the UK attorney appointed by the International Criminal Court, said Thursday that Gaddafi’s most prominent son had been liberated on 12 April on the alleged orders of then-Justice Minister Mabruk Omran of the Interim Government in Bayda, East Libya.
His release was supposedly based on the General Amnesty Law – or Law 6 of 2015 – which Libya’s parliament, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, passed in July 2015.
While the law has not been applied on a large scale, there are individual cases of former regime members who have returned from exile since the start of the year. One case that stirred controversy is that of Tayeb al-Safi – one of Gaddafi’s closest aides – who arrived in Tobruk from Egypt on 10 April.
Saif al Islam – who was captured in southern Libya in November 2011 and imprisoned by his captors in Zintan – was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Tripoli in July 2015 for his part in the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that toppled his father’s rule. But the sentence was not carried through because Saif’s jailkeepers in Zintan refused to surrender him to the judiciary in Tripoli. At the time the authorities in East Libya dismissed the verdict saying judges were under duress in militia-controlled territory.
According to Saif al-Islam’s lawyer Khan, his release in April was made in accordance with the amnesty law. ”Saif al-Islam is safe and well and free in Libya,” Mr Khan said.
He insisted that communication had been made with Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, but declined to give any further information. He added he would file an application to make the ICC case inadmissible, arguing that his client has already been tried in his home country, and so trying him again would be double jeopardy.
But officials at the prison where Saif al-Islam has been held since November 2011 told Libya Channel that the reports were entirely untrue and that he had not been released.
After France 24 first reported the news on Wednesday, Brigade Abubakr al-Sadiq – which has been in charge of Saif’s detention – immediately issued a denial via the Facebook page of Zintan’s Military Council. However, the statement – a screenshot of which was circulated on social media – later appeared to have been deleted. France 24 then followed up on its initial reports based on the lawyers’ claims with a voice message from Ajmi al-Atayri – Saif’s chief jailkeeper and commander of Brigade Abubakr al-Sadiq – confirming detainee’s release, while not answering the question where Saif was now. It is not proven, however, that the voice was really that of al-Atayri.
Three representative bodies in Zintan – the Zintan Municipal Council, the Social Committee and the Military Council of Zintan Revolutionaries – released a statement on Friday denying the news. “We signatories confirm that the accused is still in prison, contrary to what video and voice statements [claimed]” the letter says, adding that Saif al-Islam could only be released following “legal procedures taking into account the rights of the people and the accused, seeking justice”. They gave no further information.
But at the same time, several other documents appeared, allegedly proving that he was released in April.
The first letter, which is dated April 10 and was handed to France 24, is addressed to the judiciary in Zintan and signed by then-Justice Minister of the Interim Government, Mabruk Omran. In it, Omran asks the Zintanis to release Saif in application of the the new law. He also makes reference to a prior request from a congregation of elders of the Gadadfa tribe to look into Saif’s case and decide whether he is eligible for amnesty.
“After studying the file of Saif al-Islam and the general amnesty law, as well as the exceptions from the law, it was established that these exceptions do not apply to the accused”, the letter goes on to say, meaning that Saif was eligible for amnesty in the view of the Bayda-Ministry of Justice. Some have questioned the authenticity of the letter as the signature resembles the letters “hahahaha” in Arabic, suggesting that it may have been a joke.
The second letter, which Ajmi al-Atayri apparently addressed to the Justice Ministry on 12 April, confirms Saif’s release from prison on that very day.
Further complicating the issue is that Omran died of a heart attack on 1 June and has been replaced by a new justice minister, who has yet to comment officially on the case.
It is unclear what jurisdiction Omran had, since the international community recognizes the UN-appointed Government of National Accord anchored in Tripoli since late March – rendering the Interim Government defunct.