Muammar Gaddafi’s most prominent son, and eight of his top aides, were sentenced to death by a Tripoli court on Tuesday, for committing war crimes during the 2011 uprising, in a trial widely denounced by the international community.
Saif al-Islam, who studied in the UK and became the international face of the Gaddafi regime, was sentenced in absentia on charges of murder, rape and inciting genocide. The 43-year-old did not attend the closed hearing held in Gadba prison as he is currently detained in Zintan, some 130km south west of the capital.
Eight others are facing the firing squad including Gaddafi’s last Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi his spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi and his head of foreign intelligence Abuzeid Dorda – all detained in the capital. Of the 37 defendants only 29, dressed in light blue, were present at court on Tuesday.
A further eight were given life in jail while fifteen where handed between five and 12 years in jail.
Four defendants were acquitted, one was ordered to be confined to a psychiatric hosptial.
The trial sparked international uproar and was condemned by the country’s official government, who said judges acted under duress from the armed groups that run the capital rendering the proceedings illegal.
Speaking the night before the ruling, Justice Minister Mabrouk Ghraira Omran said those involved with the case were “working at gunpoint and in fear of murder or kidnap” and called on the international community to reject the ruling before it had even been given.
Libya has plunged back into civil war just four years after the ouster of Gaddafi, as rival groups of ex-rebels have fought each other for control of the oil-rich country.
Last summer Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist-leaning politicians and armed groups seized the capital and set up a rival administration. The takeover forced the elected parliament and its cabinet to operate over 1500km east in the cities of Tobruk and Bayda, from where they have had no say in Tripoli’s legal proceedings.
The defendants’ defense team said that at least two lawyers, who were threatened by armed groups last year, quit, while others have fled to Tunisia, fearing further violence against them. The added that they had not had proper access to their clients or the case files since the start of the trial last April.
One lawyer Mehdi Bouaouaja, representing former premier Al-Mahmoudi who was extradited from Tunisia in 2012, called the detentions “kidnapping”.
“The sentence by the court is a war crime – the whole of this area is under the authorities of militias, not a regular army, it has been held in an illegitimate court, most of the defendants are being held in an irregular prison, this isn’t justice, this is kidnapping,” Bouaouaja told.
“Meanwhile the lawyers have been under intense pressure ,” he added.
Ali Aldaa, who was threatened at gunpoint last year, said he would challenge the verdict before the Libyan Supreme Court. Another lawyer, Hussien Al-Sherif, described the verdicts as “very harsh.”
In London, al-Senoussi’s wife, Fatma Farkash, asserted that the Tripoli court didn’t have the authority to hand down the death sentence.
“It was a big shock for me and my children. We were not expecting this. It was an ugly verdict,” she said. “Libya doesn’t have a functioning state, and it was a closed hearing.”
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the trial was “undermined by serious due process violations,” and called for an independent review.
“This trial has been plagued by persistent, credible allegations of fair trial breaches that warrant independent and impartial judicial review,” said Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
“The victims of the serious crimes committed during the 2011 uprising deserve justice, but that can only be delivered through fair and transparent proceedings,” Stork said.
Other international organizations, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe, also condemned the verdict said they were “deeply disturbed” by the death sentences .
The Council of Europe said the case should have been turned over to the International Criminal Court – which does not hand out the death penalty.
The international tribunal had tried to extradite Saif al-Islam for trial at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity, in part because of concerns that he could not receive a fair trial in Libya.
British lawyer John Jones, hired to represent Saif al-Islam at the ICC, said it was a “ show trial from start to finish”.
“This verdict was expected. [The judges] haven’t shown any due precess, it has been condemned by the country’s own minister of justice as illegal. I wouldn’t dignify it by using the word trial, it is judicially-sanctioned execution by the Libya Dawn militia that have run the show,” he told.
“Saif al-Gaddafi should have been taken to The Hague a long time ago… But I don’t see much scope for international interference or much political will,” he added.
The British-educated second-eldest of Gaddaif’s seven sons, Saif al-Islam was the most prominent figure of his father’s regime and initially won international fame for being a figure of economic and political reform. He returned to Gaddafi’s side and vigorously attempted to rally loyalists during the 2011 NATO-backed revolt. He was seized while trying to flee to neighboring Niger after rebel forces took Tripoli. His brother Saadi was extradited three years later from Niger, where he had managed to escape.
The rest of Saif al-Islam’s family members who survived, including his mother, sister, two brothers and others, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012 and moved there from Algeria, where they found refuge during the civil war.
During the trial, Saif al-Islam and the others were accused of recruiting mercenaries who were given Libyan nationality, planning and carrying out attacks on civilian targets from the air, forming armed groups and shooting into crowds of demonstrators. Among the charges he was convicted of were incitement to murder and rape.
Sadiq al-Sur, Tripoli’s top prosecutor, said the death penalty could not be carried out for at least another 60 days as the verdict had approved by the Supreme Court and the parliament.
But it is unclear which court and which legislature will deliver the final decision, as the official government does not recognize the proceedings.
37 defendants were sentenced in the trial here is the full list:
12 years in jail:
10 years in jail:
6 years in jail:
5 years in jail:
One committed to psychiatric hospital