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Libyan authorities have released the four International Criminal Court staff members who have been held in Zintan after their visit on June 7, 2012, to Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the son of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, to notify him of his legal rights. Qaddafi, in custody by Zintan militias, has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The court’s president, Sang-Hyun Song, said at a press conference today in Zintan that “the ICC is grateful to the Libyan authorities for their agreement today to release the Court’s staff members so that they can be reunited with their families.”
The detainees, Song and others from the court left Tripoli, the capital, on a plane headed to The Hague and provided by the Italian government.
At the press conference, Song also thanked Zintan officials for their “cooperation” and said that the court employees were treated well during their detention. Diplomats from Australia, Lebanon, Russia and Spain also traveled to Zintan to greet their citizens upon release. The imprisoned employees were Alexander Khodakov, a Russian external relations and cooperation senior adviser for the court’s registry; Esteban Peralta Losilla, a Spaniard and chief of the counsel support section; Helene Assaf, a Lebanese court translator; and Melinda Taylor, an Australian lawyer.
The employees’ June 7 visit was questioned by Libyan authorities and militias in Zintan, who accused the staff members, particularly Taylor, of passing secrets to Qaddafi and having a digital pen camera and thereby compromising national security. Libyan officials have since investigated the situation, the court said in today’s statement, and information about the inquiry was presented to The Hague when the attorney general of Libya, Abdelaziz al-Hassadi, visited on June 22.
Song confirmed that the information would be investigated according to court procedures once the staff members returned to The Hague. The negotiations leading to the prisoners’ release involved numerous trips and various diplomats, including Bob Carr, the Australian foreign minister. At one point in late June, Carr told the media, after he met Libyan officials in Tripoli, that the court employees could be freed if the ICC apologized to Libyan authorities for its “inadequate consultation on protocol and procedures.”
The court then released a statement on June 22 saying, among other things, that “the ICC deeply regrets any events that may have given rise to concerns on the part of the Libyan authorities.”
The employees’ detention coincided with the swearing in of Fatou Bensouda on June 15 as the court’s new chief prosecutor, the second in its 10-year history and replacing Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Relatedly, Politics in Spires, a blog published jointly by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, called the detention of Taylor “a pawn” in the larger conflict between the court, led by Moreno-Ocampo, who was eager to secure Qaddafi’s extradition, and Libya’s interim government, which is reluctant to turn over Qaddafi to The Hague.