A court in Tripoli has sentenced Saif al-Islam, the son of Libya’s former dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, to death by firing squad. The charges against the 43-year-old include war crimes committed during the NATO-backed 2011 revolt, which deposed the ruling family. The trial, which has proved controversial since its outset last April, has had human rights groups and the International Criminal Court calling its standards and legitimacy into question. Metro speaks to Ahmed Benchemsi, spokesperson for the Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, who analyzed the news.

Q: Why was he sentenced to death?

– Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was sued for his alleged implication in the shooting and killing of protesters during the 2011 uprisings in Libya. It is also worth noting that he was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity related to that year’s uprising, but Libya has refused to surrender him to The Hague despite an ICC order.

Q: Who else is facing death by firing squad?


– Aside from Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, eight other defendants were sentenced to death, including former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, and former prime ministers Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi and Abu Zeid Omar Dorda.

Q: Are the charges reasonable?

– I will have to quote HRW’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Joe Stork: “The victims of the serious crimes committed during the 2011 uprising deserve justice, but that can only be delivered through fair and transparent proceedings.”

Q: Does this situation violate their human rights?

– The trial was undermined seriously due to process violations. Several defense lawyers could not meet with their clients in private, while counsel for some of the defendants (including Senussi and Dorda) changed over the course of the trial. Also, lawyers apparently resigned after they received threats by unknown people. Gaddafi was tried in absentia, and it is unclear whether his lawyer participated fully in the proceedings and does not appear to have presented a final defense pleading on Gaddafi’s behalf. The UN working group on Arbitrary Detention had concluded, as early as November 2013, that due to Gaddafi’s arbitrary detention and the gravity of the due process violations in his case, it was impossible to guarantee him a fair trial in Libya.

Q: What can we expect?

– We have called Libya’s Supreme Court to independently and fully review the verdict, including a full evaluation of the evidence and the conduct of the trial, and overturn the death sentences. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.