Tripoli, 9 June:
An Australian defence lawyer for Saif Qaddafi was today arrested at a meeting with her client at his prison . . .[restrict]in Zintan, after local officials accused her of trying to pass documents to Qaddafi, which according to one lawyer, represented a danger to the Libyan state.
Melinda Taylor, one of three International Criminal Court lawyers appointed by the ICC to defend the late dictator’s son at the trial that the international court wants to hold for him, was placed under arrest along with a second colleague and held “under house detention” in Zintan with the other two ICC officials.
The four-man ICC team, apparently led by Taylor, arrived in Libya this week and had been given permission by Libya’ prosecutor-general to visit the prisoner in Zintan.
The sequence of events is not yet clear. Some reports say that allegedly incriminating documents were found when the lawyers were searched before meeting Qaddafi; others that an attempt was made during the meeting to pass the papers to him. The ICC team had supposedly been deprived of a pen with a camera and a watch with a recorder, before the meeting.
The allegation is that among the documents that were intercepted, was a letter from a close Qaddafi associate, Mohammed Ismail, who is now in exile in Egypt.
The BBC has reported that the Libyan government has requested the immediate release of the ICC officials. However, a Zintan brigade commander has insisted that the two lawyers will remain in the town “where the crime has been committed”, while the Attorney-General’s office carries out an investigation. Some reporters were shown the suspect documents at a distance but were unable to examine their contents.
The local lawyer. Ahmed el-Jehani, who acts as Libya’s representative to the ICC insisted to Reuters that Taylor was not in a prison cell: “She is not in jail. She is being detained in a guesthouse, her colleagues are with her. During a visit to Qaddafi she tried to deliver documents to him, letters that represent a danger to the security of Libya”.
The identity of the Taylor’s colleagues is not yet clear. She is Counsel and Deputy Head of the ICC Office of Public Counsel for the Defence (OPCD), which she herself established in April 2006. The OPCD’s job is not necessarily to actually defend someone being prosecuted in the ICC, but to look after the interests of an accused’s defence team and ensure that they are not overwhelmed by the generally far greater resources of the prosecutor’s office.
The ICC has demanded that Saif Qaddafi be handed over for trial before its own judges in the Hague. It maintains that the accused’s safety cannot be guaranteed at a trial in Tripoli and that the Libyan judicial process is weak.
Libya has refused to hand over the prisoner, insisting that he be tried in Libya. The Ministry of Justice has even prepared a special courtroom for the trial in Tripoli.
The government originally protested that a fair trial could be mounted here before the elections scheduled for this month. However the Zintan brigades-men holding Qaddafi want him tried in that city and have themselves refused to hand the prisoner over to the government.
In preparation for the trial that it wants to mount, the ICC appointed Xavier?Jean Keïta as Principal Counsel for the defence with Ms. Melinda Taylor as Counsel. Taylor has previously worked for the Defence Office of the war crimes court Bosnia Herzegovina and as a legal officer in the UN’s Kosovo mission. She is a member of the New York bar.
Jehani told reporters that he expected that Taylor and her colleagues would be released soon, he hoped today.