Saadi Qaddafi and Saif al-Islam, two of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s sons, were due to appear in court yesterday, facing charges of corruption and war crimes alongside more than 30 other Qaddafi-era officials, but they did not show.
The mass trial will be seen by the international community as a barometer for Libya’s progress in establishing a democratic state after the chaotic 2011 revolution that ended four decades of Muammar Qaddafi’s one-man rule.
Post-Qaddafi Libya has so far been defined by a weak interim government and growing unrest as former revolutionary fighters refuse to give up their weapons, and armed protesters blockade the country’s crucial oil exports.
The state’s nascent democracy is struggling to establish basic institutions and rule of law as Muammar Qaddafi left behind only a husk of a government after absorbing all the power into his own hands.
The trial was to begin a day after Interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni announced his resignation after an attack on his family.
“If they don’t get fair trials then it casts doubt over whether the new Libya is not about selective justice... So far, there have been problems with legal representation. Many of those on trial did not have a lawyer from the beginning — a cornerstone of a fair trial,” said Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) and other rights organizations are concerned over the fairness of Libya’s justice system although the government won the right last year to try Muammar Qaddafi’s former spy chief domestically instead of at the ICC.
Saadi Qaddafi, known as a playboy with a brief career in professional soccer, was extradited from Niger last month.
The head of the government investigations could not confirm details about the trial.
“I think Saadi will not appear in court tomorrow, as investigations are still on-going,” Libya’s state prosecutor Abdelqadir Radwan said by telephone on Sunday.
Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had been expected to appear by video-link inside the courtroom.
He is being held by the powerful western Zintan militia group, who have refused to hand him over to the government they believe cannot provide a secure trial.
Muammar Qaddafi’s ex-spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi did appear in court, along with the former Libyan foreign minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi.
Libyan Minister of Justice Salah al-Merghani insisted that the trial was open to the public who would ensure the process was fair and not turned into a “Mickey Mouse” show trial.
The trial will not resume until April 27 as investigators need more time to finish some of the cases.