THE HAGUE, (Reuters) – A war crimes lawyer who was detained in Libya for three weeks on spying allegations said on Friday her experience showed it was impossible for the son of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi to get a fair trial in his home country.
Melinda Taylor, who was assigned to assist Saif al-Islam Gaddafi defend himself before the International Criminal Court (ICC), was imprisoned in Zintan along with three colleagues last month after being accused of smuggling documents to her client which her captors said threatened national security.
Her ordeal came as The Hague-based court was preparing to rule whether Libya is capable of offering Saif al-Islam a fair trial for war crimes he allegedly committed during the NATO-backed revolt that toppled his father last year. He denies the charges.
Libya has so far refused to extradite him, saying it would prefer to try him in its own courts and has challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction.
But Taylor, an Australian, said her experience showed Saif al-Islam had no chance of receiving a fair trial in Libya.
“These recent events have completely underscored that it will be impossible for Mr. Gaddafi to be tried in an independent and impartial manner in Libyan courts,” she told reporters in The Hague.
“The rights of my client were irrevocably prejudiced during my visit to Zintan.”
Taylor spent three weeks in a prison in the western mountain city of Zintan after meeting Saif al-Islam, who is being held at a secret location by Zintanis, on June 7.
Authorities in Zintan, which is only loosely under the control of the interim government in the capital Tripoli, had made it impossible for her to defend Saif al-Islam effectively, she added, confiscating privileged documents and listening in on conversations meant to be confidential.
Libya is not a member of the court, but the ICC was granted jurisdiction by the U.N. Security Council last November.
Taylor and her colleagues, from Lebanon, Russia and Spain, were only released after 26 days when the ICC issued a carefully-worded apology to Libyan authorities.
Libyan authorities accused Taylor of smuggling documents that endangered national security, charges she denied.
On Friday, Taylor said all the documents were legitimate and relevant to Saif al-Islam’s case however, and that Libya had violated his right to privileged contact with a lawyer.
An internal inquiry at the court – which was founded a decade ago to try war crimes around the globe – is looking into her imprisonment.
She works for the ICC’s office for the defence, which represents suspects in the initial stages of their trial and was visiting Gaddafi to advise him on his choice of defence lawyer.
The ICC employees were held in a prison surrounded by tanks for almost three weeks and were allowed one five-minute telephone conversation with their families, Taylor said.