By George Grant.
Zintan, 2 July 2012:
The detained Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor was released from captivity in Zintan today, along with three other International Criminal . . .[restrict]Court representatives held in the town for the past three weeks.
ICC President Sang-Hyun Song, who was only informed of the decision yesterday, flew into Tripoli this morning to be present in Zintan for the announcement.
“I wish to apologise for the difficulties resulting from this train of events”, Sang said. “The information reported by the Libyan
authorities will be fully investigated in accordance with ICC procedures following the return of the four staff members to The Hague”.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Aziz announced that a trial would also be held in Libya on 23 July, although the accused would not themselves be present at the hearing.
Taylor was arrested in Zintan on 7 June, suspected of attempting to smuggle “dangerous” documents to Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, for whom she is acting as a defence representative.
Amongst the documents were said to be letters from Saif’s fugitive former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, with whom the government believes Taylor has been in contact.
Blank letters marked only with Saif’s signature were also said to have been found on the lawyer, as well as a note in which he complained of
mistreatment at the hands of his captors and the absence of the rule of law in Libya.
Taylor’s Lebanese interpreter, Helene Assaf, was said to have been found in possession of a “spy camera”.
Ajme Al-Ettery, the commander of the brigade that arrested the ICC team, struck a combative note when he hinted at direct complicity between Taylor and Mohammed Ismail.
“We were expecting there would be some entities who would like to help Saif Qaddafi escape from Zintan, the militiaman said. “But it is very regrettable that this has been done through members of the ICC”.
Dressed in black robes and headscarves, both Taylor and Assaf appeared nervous and overwhelmed as they were led first to lunch in the midst of a throng of waiting journalists, and then to their vehicles.
None of the newly-released ICC team were permitted to answer questions, with both the Libyan authorities and the ICC insisting that the substance of the allegations would be directly addressed in their respective investigations.
The events of the past three weeks have placed considerable strain on the relationship between the government and the ICC, at a time
when the two are still negotiating where and by whom Saif Qaddafi should be tried.
Under UN Security Council resolution 1970, the ICC has been mandated to investigate and prosecute Saif for crimes committed during last year’s uprising against the Qaddafi regime.
The Libyan government has argued that this mandate should now be revoked and that the dictator’s son should be tried inside Libya and according to Libyan law.
The ICC has said it must be sure that Saif will receive a free and fair trial in Libya before granting its consent, and the court appears to now be moving in that direction.
On 1 June, the ICC postponed its request that Libya hand Saif over to them for trial pending its final determination of whether the conditions required to hold a fair trial inside the country have been met.
On 22 June, the ICC issued a statement in which it declared itself “ready to assist national authorities with their investigations if requests are submitted to the Court. The ICC is committed to continued mutual cooperation with the Libyan authorities and will do everything it can to assist them.”