Libya frees ICC lawyer arrested for ‘spying’ on visit to Gaddafi son
LIBYA has freed International Criminal Court (ICC) lawyer Melanie Taylor, who had been detained since early last month, leaving more questions than answers.
The 36-year-old Australian, arrested and accused of spying on 7 June, was released yesterday into the custody of Italian diplomats, to be flown out of the country last night.
She was accused of offences against “state security” while visiting detained war crimes suspect Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Her release came after ICC president Sang-Hyun Song made a personal visit to Zintan, the town where she was held.
The arrest of Ms Taylor, and her Lebanese-born interpreter Helene Assaf, while she was on an official visit to meet Saif, became the most serious crisis to hit the court since it was founded, dampening its tenth anniversary celebrations on Sunday.
Her release followed weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling involving court officials and Australian foreign minister Robert Carr, who visited Libya last month, saying he was acting as “broker” on a deal to free her.
Ms Taylor was handed over to the care of Italian diplomats in the company of Ms Assaf and two ICC officials, from Russia and Spain, who had been with her on the visit. The two officials were told last month they were free to go but elected to stay with Ms Taylor.
“I would like to thank the Libyan authorities for making the necessary arrangements today to allow the release of the ICC staff so they may be reunited with their families,” Mr Song said.
The release had to be agreed by Zintan, a mountain town 90 miles from Tripoli, whose powerful militia has a fractured relationship with Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council.
Libyan prime minister Abdulrahim El Keib has insisted Ms Taylor broke the rules of her visit, by trying to pass documents to Saif that were “unconnected with her duties”. Exactly what those documents were Libya has refused to reveal.
Justice officials said when she was strip-searched after her meeting with Saif, she was found to have three blank pieces of paper bearing Saif’s signature and a miniature camera hidden in a pen. It has been suggested this was connected with an attempt to give a Gaddafi family crony power of attorney over foreign assets belonging to the clan.
Neither Libya nor the ICC are saying whether any deal was done for the release, but Mr Carr said last week a key element was that the court apologised for her conduct. That apology was duly delivered last week by Mr Song.
Another part of the deal appears to be the promise by the ICC that, once she was back in The Hague, a full inquiry would be held into Libya’s allegations.
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