Few people expected Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to return to the spotlight after six years in prison on charges of alleged genocide and suppression of demonstrators during the unrest in 2011.
Before the political turmoil, he was once widely considered as heir of his father, the late deposed Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, but was captured by a militia group in Zintan, a town located the southwest of the capital Tripoli. Observers said his release was politically motivated and endangers reconciliation in the country that remains divided after six years of conflicts.
Saif Gaddafi has not appeared in public since he was released on Friday. His current whereabouts remain unknown.
His lawyer said Sunday his client was freed under an amnesty law issued by the parliament. The eastern-based Libyan parliament passed a general amnesty law in 2015 on all Libyans, including Saif Gaddafi, who committed crimes in the north African country since Feb. 15, 2011. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) still demands that Saif be extradited for crimes against humanity. Libya’s acting Attorney General Ibrahim Masoud Ali has revealed public prosecution had begun investigating those involved in the release of Saif Gaddafi. “Based on the information regarding the release of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who has been sentenced in absentia, he is wanted under the court order, so that he will be tried in accordance with the requirements of a fair trial,” Ali said in a statement. “The amnesty he needs to be released required a legal waiver from the families of the victims,” he added.
Saif Gaddafi was sentenced to death along with some other officials in absentia by the Tripoli Court of Appeal for alleged genocide and mercenaries he committed during the 2011 turmoil that overthrew his father’s regime. “The issue of Saif al-Islam is a matter of national judiciary. No one can make any decision about his freedom except through the public prosecution and court. Therefore, if he was actually released, those responsible for his release have exceeded their powers,” said Jalal al-Fitouri, a law professor in Libya. Zintan’s military and city councils on Sunday stated their opposition to Saif Gaddafi’s release, saying it was a “collusion and betrayal to the martyrs and a stab to the military establishment that they claim to belong to.” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Wednesday called for assistance in the immediate arrest of Saif Gaddafi.
The controversy on the release of Saif Gaddafi was called “the black box of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,” by the opponents who expressed concerns that he would restore his family’s power after the 2011 unrest put an end to his father’s more than four decades of ruling.
Gaddafi’s release at this time raises concerns that domestic and international parties intend to involve him in the reconciliation process, given the relations and prestige he has with major tribes, as well as the funds he owns abroad, Al-Fitouri said. Ibrahim al-Dabbashi, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, said the release of Saif Gaddafi was a result of “a tribal alliance.” “Many Libyans will consider the release as a betrayal of the nation, especially since the image of Saif al-Islam threatening the Libyans did not disappear,” he said.
Libya remains politically divided after six years of conflicts with two competing parliaments and governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the eastern port city of Tobruk. “I think Saif is an influential party in the political scene, especially since he has supporters and a popular base. However, it is impossible to predict what he wants: does he want confrontation and to restore the regime of his father, Muammar Gaddafi, or does he want to reconcile with the current regime and end the past disagreement? All of this dependents on him in the first place. The future will reveal his motives,” said Ali al-Suweih, a member of the Supreme Council of State, an advisory body in the country.”If he is released from prison, it would make the chaotic situation more complicated,” al-Suweih added.
With mediation efforts of the international community, political rivals signed a U.N.-sponsored peace agreement in December 2015 which led to the establishment of the Government of National Accord headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and based in Tripoli.However, the Tobruk-based parliament, which is recognized by the international community, has refused to endorse the government.