Four delegates from the International Criminal Court have been detained since Thursday in the remote Libyan town of Zintan after an arranged meeting with the imprisoned son of the late strongman Moammar Kadafi.
The detainees include an Australian lawyer who was reportedly accused of passing documents to Seif Islam Kadafi during their meeting last week. The legal delegation had gone to Libya to talk with Kadafi, who is charged with crimes against humanity, about whether he would choose his own attorney or use one appointed by the court.
The ICC has called for their release, insisting that the four delegates have immunity on their official court mission. Libya had already said in legal statements that it would facilitate access between Kadafi and his attorneys, the court said.
“We are very concerned about the safety of our staff in the absence of any contact with them," court president Sang-Hyun Song said Saturday in a statement.
The Libyan envoy to the international court told the Agence France-Presse that Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor had been caught "spying" by exchanging papers with Kadafi, including a letter from a former aide that included coded symbols. Her Lebanese interpreter was accused of being an accomplice.
Taylor and the interpreter, Helene Assaf, face 45 days in detention while the accusations of espionage are investigated, Reuters reported Monday. The two other members of the team, both from Spain, chose to stay behind with them in Zintan, the Libyan envoy told the AFP.
Libya has already been at odds with the international court about whether to hand over Kadafi, saying it wants to try him in its own courts. Libyan government attorneys have argued it is a "historical opportunity to eradicate the long-standing culture of impunity."
But outside experts fear that trying Kadafi could end up exacerbating conflict in the turbulent country. Underscoring the continued dangers in Libya, a British Embassy convoy was attacked Monday afternoon in Benghazi and two private security officers were injured.
Others fear the Kadafi trial could be deeply politicized. As of late January, Kadafi had not been provided access to a lawyer in violation of Libyan law, Human Rights Watch reported. Libyan officials have said that Kadafi has refused to choose a defense attorney.
"Few Libyans and outside experts seemed to doubt an eventual verdict of guilty and a sentence of death for a man seen as channeling his father's autocratic rule," The Times' Patrick J. McDonnell wrote in November when the younger Kadafi was captured.
— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Ajmi Atiri, commander of the Zintan brigade that arrested Seif Islam Kadafi, speaks during a news conference in the Libyan city of Zintan on Saturday. Credit: Gianluigi Guercia / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images