TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — A militia-run prison failed to transfer the son of Libya's former dictator Moammar Gadhafi to a court hearing in Tripoli on Thursday, underscoring the central government's difficulty in asserting its authority nearly two years after the end of the country's civil war.
Court officials said they were seeking clarification as to why Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the most prominent figure from his father's defunct regime, failed to show at an arraignment hearing addressing alleged crimes committed during the 2011 war.
Al-Seddik al-Sur of the state prosecutor's office told reporters Thursday that authorities have asked for "justification" as to why Seif al-Islam was not transferred from the western town of Zintan, where a militia has held him since the end of the war and where he appeared in a brief hearing on separate charges Thursday.
State TV showed the slim, bearded defendant wearing a blue prison suit inside a cage at the courtroom in the mountain town, where the judge adjourned the trial until Dec. 12 over "lack of evidence."
The Zintan-based trial, launched after city authorities accused an international court delegation of smuggling documents and a camera to Seif al-Islam in prison, is different from the Tripoli proceedings accusing him of murder and other crimes during the eight-month war.
The Tripoli-based hearing involves 37 other former regime officials including ex-spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi and former prime minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said prison trucks transferred a total of 36 defendants including al-Senoussi and al-Mahmoudi to the Tripoli Criminal Court to hear the charges leveled against them. Besides Seif al-Islam, another, unidentified defendant did not show up.
Successive Libyan governments have failed to impose law and order in the country since rebel forces overthrew Moammar Gadhafi and killed him. Authorities instead rely on heavily armed militia groups, initially drawn from the rebellion, for security, although some began challenging the central government as it struggles with a transition to democracy.
Gadhafi's son and spy chief are also wanted by the International Criminal Court, which has charged them with murder and the persecution of civilians during the early days of the uprising. If convicted in that court, they would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment but not the death penalty, which the ICC does not recognize. This summer, judges from The Hague-based court ruled that Libya cannot give Gadhafi's son a fair trial and asked authorities to hand him over.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch also urged Libyan authorities to hand Seif al-Islam to the ICC.
"Carrying on with a domestic proceeding against Saif Gaddafi in the face of an ICC order to turn him over to The Hague is a serious misstep," said HRW official Richard Dicker. Human rights defenders Amnesty International have made a similar request.
Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo