TRIPOLI: The Libyan trial of more than 30 top figures from Moammar Gadhafi’s deposed regime opened briefly Monday, but the court adjourned proceedings as key defendants, including onetime heir apparent Seif al-Islam, were absent.
The adjournment until April 27 came just 40 minutes after the trial started, as rights groups voiced doubts that the defendants, accused of abuses during the 2011 uprising that toppled the regime, would get a fair trial. It was the second postponement since March 24.
Out of 37 charged, only 23 were in the dock, sitting behind bars in blue prison uniforms in the heavily secured courtroom.
Among those present were former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi and Gadhafi’s last premier, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi.
Senussi appeared weak and pleaded with the court to treat him like other prisoners.
“I would like this treatment to end so that I can receive visits from my family like the other prisoners,” he told the judge when asked if he had any requests.
The prosecution said Senussi was never denied visiting rights and had been visited by family members.
Seddik al-Sour, the representative of the prosecution, admitted however that some of the defendants were given “special treatment” due to what he described as the “gravity of the charges against them.”
All the defendants are charged with murder, kidnapping, complicity in incitement to rape, plunder, sabotage, embezzlement of public funds and acts harmful to national unity.
Mahmudi asked the court to be allowed to see his lawyers in jail and said that some members of his defense team had not been allowed to attend the trial. At least two lawyers represented him Monday.
During the brief 40-minute hearing, some lawyers complained that they hadn’t had access to the charge sheets against their clients.
The prosecution dismissed their claims, saying the documents could be consulted any time at the prosecutor’s office but that defense lawyers were barred from making copies of them.
Monday’s postponement was due to a number of defendants, notably Seif, being absent and is meant to give lawyers time to prepare their cases.
It will also allow for preparations to be made to set up video links with Seif and other prisoners who are detained outside Tripoli and whose transfer could pose a security risk.
Seif has been held in the western town of Zintan since he was arrested by rebels in November 2011. The central authorities in Tripoli have tried without success to negotiate his transfer to the capital.
The other defendants are held in the eastern city of Misrata.
Seif and Senussi are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the uprising.
In May, the ICC rejected Tripoli’s request to try Seif in Libya because of doubts over a fair trial. Tripoli has appealed the decision.
But the ICC last October gave Tripoli the go-ahead to try Senussi inside the country.
Saadi Gadhafi, another of the slain dictator’s sons, was extradited from Niger in March and is also due to go on trial. However, he has not yet been formally charged.
Human Rights Watch has called on authorities to grant the defendants full access to a lawyer, adequate time to prepare their defense and the ability to challenge evidence presented against them.
But Richard Dicker, HRW’s international justice director, said in a statement Monday that “this case has been riddled with procedural flaws right from the beginning, which have made it grossly unfair to the defendants.”
“Putting Gadhafi-era officials on trial without fair-trial guarantees shouldn’t leave anyone satisfied that justice is being done,” he said.