Libya launches first trial of Gaddafi loyalists

AFP, Sunday 5 Feb 2012

Gaddafi loyalists face prosecution in Libya's first post-revolution trial, as rights groups denounce unjust practices of former rebels towards the imprisoned

Libya put 41 loyalists of dead dictator Muammar Gaddafi on trial on Sunday, in the first legal proceedings launched against members of the former regime which was ousted after a bloody conflict.

The accused, mostly civilians, appeared in a military court in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gaddafi which ended on 20 October with his killing in his home town of Sirte.

Their trial comes as human rights groups have raised concerns over Libya's judicial system and also accused former rebels of "torturing" Gaddafi loyalists in custody.

"It is the first trial concerning the February 17 revolution," judge Colonel Ali Al-Hamida said at the start of the proceedings, referring to the day when the anti-Gaddafi conflict erupted last year in Benghazi.

The 41, all men, are accused of supporting the Gaddafi regime in its attempts to crush the popular revolt, as well as helping prisoners to escape and setting up "criminal gangs."

An AFP correspondent attending the proceedings said the first session of the trial was held under tight security.

The 15-lawyer defence team for the accused contested the proceedings, saying most of the accused are civilians but are being prosecuted in a military court.

The trial was later adjourned to February 15.

The New-York based Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2012, has raised concerns over Libya's judicial system.

"Libya’s interim government and its international supporters should make it an urgent priority to build a functioning justice system and begin legal reform that protects human rights after Muammar Gaddafi," the group said in the report.

HRW and two other human rights groups, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, have also accused former rebels who helped topple Gaddafi's 42-year-old rule of "torturing" their prisoners, mainly ex-regime loyalists.

On Friday, HRW noted that a former ambassador to France, Omar Brebesh, died of possible "torture" in the custody of a militia less than 24 hours after his detention in Tripoli.

Amnesty International and Doctors without Borders have also charged that the militias use "widespread torture" against their prisoners in cities such as Tripoli, Misrata and smaller towns like Ghariyan.

Doctors Without Borders even suspended its work in Misrata over allegations of torture in prisons there.

Libyan officials insist that the country's judiciary is "competent" to handle the legal cases of former regime members, including putting on trial Gaddafi's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam.

Saif, 39, who was arrested on November 19, is in the custody of the military council of Zintan, a town 180 kilometres (110 miles), southwest of Tripoli.

He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the conflict. 

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