Cairo: Muammar Gaddafi`s captured son and one-time heir apparent, Saif al-Islam, is being treated well but has not had access to a lawyer, an international rights group said Wednesday after visiting the prisoner in a mountain stronghold of Libya`s ex-rebel fighters.
Saif al-Islam, who has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, was captured in November by fighters from the town of Zintan in Libya`s western mountains, one of the key centers of the rebellion against Gaddafi. The Zintan fighters continue to hold him, and Libya`s national leadership in Tripoli is insisting on trying him at home, though they have yet to establish a functional court system.
Saif al-Islam "had no complaints about the physical conditions of his detention" but "his main concern was the lack of access to family and to a lawyer," said Fred Abrahams, a special adviser with the rights group who visited the prisoner on Sunday.
The group urged Libya`s new leaders to ensure Gaddafi`s son gets legal representation.
Saif al-Islam, who for months helped his father lead the fight against Libyan rebels, was charged in June with crimes against humanity by the ICC for alleged atrocities committed during the civil war. The elder Gaddafi was killed while in rebel hands in October in his hometown of Sirte.
Libya`s general prosecutor, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, told Human Rights Watch that his office had opened an investigation into Saif al-Islam related to corruption allegations from before the war and would also investigate alleged crimes committed by him during this year`s fighting.
To try him at home on the same charges contained in the international court`s indictment, Libya would have to challenge the ICC`s jurisdiction through a legal submission to the Netherlands-based court and would have to show it is genuinely able and willing to prosecute his case in fair and credible proceedings, Human Rights Watch said.
Al-Hasadi, who is investigating Saif al-Islam`s case, told HRW that he would allow Gaddafi`s son "access to a lawyer when the government prepared a secure detention facility in Tripoli."
The rights group urged Libya to demonstrate that it has broken with the past by ensuring the fair handling of Saif al-Islam`s case.
"The new Libya is about respecting the rights of all detainees. The world is watching how Libya handles this case, and Libya should prove that it will grant him all the rights that were too often denied in the past," Abrahams said.
Photos of Saif al-Islam shortly after his capture showed two fingers and the thumb of his right hand in thick bandages — an injury that he later said was the result of one of the NATO air attacks carried out in support of the rebels. The strike killed 26 members of his convoy in the town of Bani Walid, one of the last towns to fall to the rebels, he has said.
He repeated that explanation to Abrahams in their private 30-minute meeting, adding that he had an operation on his fingers and thumb about three weeks ago in Zintan and was seeing a doctor every week.
Saif al-Islam also revealed that he believed an earlier attempt to have the injury treated led to his capture in Libya`s southern desert.
"I was going to meet a doctor in the south for my hand, for an operation," he said, according to Abrahams. "The hand was in very bad shape." Forces from Zintan learned about the trip and made the arrest, he said.
Speaking of the conditions of his detention in Zintan, Saif al-Islam said, "The treatment is OK; at least I`m in my own country."
"There is no torture or anything like that," he told Abrahams, speaking comfortably in English.
His main complaint was what he called his "total isolation" from the outside world and that he has not been allowed to speak with or receive visits from any family or friends. He does have access to some books, but not to newspapers, television, or radio, Human Rights Watch said.
The prosecutor and Libyan government officials have visited him in Zintan, Saif al-Islam told the rights group. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it visited him on Nov. 22.
Saif al-Islam`s brothers Saif al-Arab and Khamis were killed earlier in the war. Their mother, Safiya, sister Aisha and another brother, Mohammed, fled to neighboring Algeria.