The Libyan trial of more than 30 top figures from Moamer Kadhafi’s deposed regime opened Monday, but proceedings were adjourned 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 Kadhafi’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 defence team had not been allowed to attend the trial. At least two lawyers represented him on Monday.
During the brief hearing, some lawyers complained that they have had no 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 defence 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.
– Trial risks becoming ‘farce’ –
Seif has been held in the western town of Zintan since he was arrested by rebels in November 2011. Authorities in Tripoli have tried without success to negotiate his transfer to the capital.
Another six defendants are held in the eastern city of Misrata.
“The trial by video link will infringe all the seven defendants’ right to a fair trial,” said Amnesty, which also considers their detention in militia jails as illegal.
The trial “risks descending into a farce,” Amnesty added, calling on Libyan authorities to transfer Seif and the others to court in Tripoli.
Human Rights Watch said the trial had been “riddled with procedural flaws” from the beginning, and called on authorities to grant all the defendants full access to a lawyer, adequate time to prepare their defence and the ability to challenge evidence presented against them.
Seif and Senussi are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the NATO-backed 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 Libya the go-ahead to try Senussi inside the country.
Saadi Kadhafi, 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.
Moamer Kadhafi himself, a flamboyant dictator who ruled Libya for four decades, was captured and killed by rebels in October 2011.