By George Grant and Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
Tripoli, 1 July:
Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi has claimed he is “in good health” and said that reports . . .[restrict]he has been mistreated in custody since his return to Libya last Sunday are “a lie”.
Qaddafi’s last prime minister made the remarks during a television interview with the Tunisian television station Al-Zitouna on Friday evening. The interview itself has been published on the station’s official Facebook page and can be viewed here.
Last Wednesday, allegations were made by Mahmoudi’s French lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi, in the Guardian newspaper that his client had been badly beaten upon his return to Tripoli from Tunisia, where he had been held since September having fled there the previous month.
“People said to me he has broken ribs, he has perforated lung, and he fell into a coma,” Ceccaldi said. The lawyer, who was in Paris when he made the allegations, said he had been informed of Mahmoudi’s condition by hospital workers in Tripoli.
Three days earlier, Mahmoudi’s lawyer in Tunisia, Bashir Al-Said, had gone further still, claiming he may be dead. Al-Said also alleged Mahmoudi had been beaten on the back of the head and that he had been taken into intensive care.
Mahmoudi, who was evidently alive at the time of the recording, did not appear to have any head injuries, although the back of his head could not be seen during the interview.
Regarding Ceccaldi’s allegations, Mahmoudi appeared to have no difficulty in speaking, suggesting his lung had not been punctured. However, the camera never left Mahmoudi’s upper torso, making it impossible to verify the condition of his leg.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed yesterday that it had still not been able to visit Mahmoudi in custody.
The overall tenor of the interview suggested Mahmoudi was clearly eager to please his audience, and a number of his remarks seemed less than credible. “I congratulate the Libyan population for a successful revolution and I wish them the best of luck”, he said.
“The food here is better than the food in my house. I am eating here more than I used to eat in my house, and the medical care is more than excellent.”
Mahmoudi also claimed he was staying in a suite and that he had access to books as well as documentation relevant to the case against him.
Government spokesman Nasser Al-Manaa has previously called the allegations about Mahmoudi’s condition “a naked lie”.
Under Qaddafi, Mahmoudi was involved in the development of several Libyan infrastructure projects, including the Great Man Made River, which connected several of the country’s coastal towns with freshwater supplies deep in the Libyan desert.
He belatedly defected from the Qaddafi regime last August and fled to Tunisia.
Mahmoudi is now facing charges of ordering a mass rape in Zuara during the revolution, as well as ordering a hospital manager to transfer dead bodies to buildings hit by NATO airstrikes to infer that they had caused civilian casualties.
His extradition to Libya has sparked widespread international controversy, with rights groups including Amnesty International warning he would be at risk of torture.
The decision has also caused a major rift inside the Tunisian government, with Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki declaring the decision “illegal” and “a clear violation of our country’s international commitments and those towards the UN”.
The Tunisian government, which is led by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, has rejected the president’s allegations and said the decision to extradite Mahmoudi was made following a report by a Tunisian delegation to Tripoli, which found that the conditions for a fair judicial process had been met.
There has been some speculation on social networking sites that the video may have been recorded before Mahmoudi came to Libya, not least because Al-Zitouna is a Tunisian television channel.
This evening, a senior government official denied that the video was a fake. Ashur Al-Shamis, chief of staff to Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib, explained the decision to grant the interview to a Tunisian news channel was in response to the fact that the majority of speculation about Mahmoudi’s condition, as well as criticisms of the decision to extradite him, had come from Tunisia.
“There have been many rumours from Tunisia about Mahmoudi’s condition and claims that he had been mistreated in Libya”, Al-Shamis said. “That is why Al-Zitouna was permitted to interview him, to demonstrate the falsehood of these claims.”
Additional reporting by Abdul Razig Benali.