Libya’s former prime minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi has applied for UN political refugee status to try to prevent his extradition from Tunisia, one of his lawyers said Friday.
“If the HCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) grants Mr Mahmudi refugee status it will no longer be possible to extradite him,” said the lawyer, Taufik Wanas.
A Tunisian appeals court this week gave the nod for Mahmudi’s extradition to Libya although rights groups have expressed concern for his safety if he is sent back.
“I am hopeful that the Tunisian people will not extradite a refugee,” said Mahmudi, who appeared at a separate Tunis court on Friday in connection with a fresh extradition request submitted by the authorities in Tripoli.
His lawyers also said they would also seek help with Mahmudi’s case from the Geneva-based UN Committee against Torture.
Mahmudi, 70, was prime minister until the final days of the regime of Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, who was shot dead after his capture by National Transitional Council fighters last month.
Mahmudi was arrested on September 21 on Tunisia’s southwestern border with Algeria and jailed for illegal entry. He is being held in a prison near Tunis and failed on Wednesday in a court bid to secure his release.
Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Thursday pledged to ensure Mahmudi’s security if he is returned.
“First of all we will ensure a secure place for him, then we will guarantee a fair trial, despite the acts he has perpetrated against the Libyan people,” Abdel Jalil, chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, told AFP.
The new extradition request against Mahmudi concerns charges of inciting rape in the town of Zuwarah in northwest Libya, according to another of his lawyers, Mabrouk Kourchid.
Kourchid also said he had formally asked Tunisia’s interim president Fouad Mebazaa not to sign and validate the extradition agreed to on Tuesday.
Amnesty International last week urged Tunisia not to extradite Mahmudi, saying he risked being subject to “serious human rights violations”.
Kourchid has said that his client fears for his life as the sole holder of Libyan state secrets since the ousted Kadhafi was slain on October 20.
During the extradition hearing this week, dozens of Libyans rallied outside the building demanding the man they called the “third tyrant of Libya” — after Kadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam — be sent back to face justice.
Tunisia in August recognised the NTC as Libya’s new authority and has committed itself to cooperation on security issues.