The son of Libya's former dictator Moammar Gaddafi missed a court hearing in Tripoli on Thursday after the militia holding him refused to send him to the capital.
Slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son made a rare appearance in a provincial Libyan court on Thursday, in a case highlighting the post-rebellion wrangle between Libya's regional authorities and the Tripoli government.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared briefly in the dock before a judge adjourned his case in the western town of Zintan, where he has been in the custody of ex-rebels since his capture in 2011.
Former rebels in control of the town had refused to hand him over to attend a simultaneous pre-trial hearing before judicial authorities in the capital Tripoli, 180 kilometres away.
"Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared before the Zintan court that decided to adjourn the trial until December 12 to allow the attendance of other accused in the case," a lawyer who was present in court told reporters.
Footage broadcast by the Al-Arabiya TV network showed Saif, 40, standing in the dock behind metal bars and flanked by two masked guards in body armour.
"As for the proper function of judicial proceedings, I want my trial and all other cases to be held in Zintan," the accused was heard to say.
Separate trial in Tripoli
In Tripoli, Prosecutor General Abdulqader Radwan said on Wednesday he had ordered Saif's transfer to the capital, the latest of several attempts to negotiate his transfer to the control of the state authorities.
"We have sent a transfer order to the penal authorities concerned to send those persons implicated in Case Number 630, including Saif al-Islam," the prosecutor general had told reporters in Tripoli on Wednesday.
Deputy prosecutor general Siddiq al-Sur said that all Libyan prisons come under the authority of the justice ministry.
"If the director of any such establishment refuses to obey orders, he will be pursued by the judiciary," he said.
The AFP news agency said more than 20 former regime officials, including ex-spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi and former prime minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, appeared in court in Tripoli for Thursday's pre-trial hearing amid heavy security.
Asked about the coincidental court appearances, Sur said only that "the prosecutor general's office was not officially informed about the date of the trial" in Zintan.
“Once more, this shows that the authorities in Tripoli have no power whatsoever over Saif al-Islam’s transfer,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Marine Casalis, reporting from Tripoli.
Defiance against the ICC
The reluctance to transfer Saif al-Islam from Zintan also reflects a certain defiance in Libya against the International Criminal Court, which has charged him and other members of Gaddafi's government with murder and the persecution of civilians during the early days of the uprising, Casalis said.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both urged the immediate handover of Saif al-Islam and Senussi to the ICC to face war crimes charges, despite Tripoli's insistence on trying them first.
If convicted in that court, they would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment but not the death penalty, which the ICC does not recognize.
This summer, judges from The Hague-based court ruled that Libya cannot give Gaddafi’s son a fair trial and asked authorities to hand him over.
Date created : 2013-09-19