Last Updated: Mon Jun 11, 2012 11:01 am (KSA) 08:01 am (GMT)

ICC sends team to Libya after delegation detained

Melinda Taylor, the ICC lawyer detained in Libya, has been accused of spying. (File photo)
Melinda Taylor, the ICC lawyer detained in Libya, has been accused of spying. (File photo)

Representatives of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to try to secure the release of a detained delegation visiting Muammar Qaddafi’s captured son, a Libyan official said.

The four-member delegation was being held in the western mountain town of Zintan after one of its lawyers, Australian Melinda Taylor, was detained on Thursday after meeting Seif al-Islam Qaddafi.

Taylor was reportedly found carrying documents regarded as suspicious for Seif, a Libyan lawyer and a militia member said on Saturday.

The president of the international war crimes court demanded their immediate release.

“An (ICC) delegation arrived today in Tripoli. They are holding meetings with officials about this,” said the Libyan official, without giving further details.

Reflecting Libya’s wider problem of powerful local militias and a weak central government, the Zintan brigade holding Seif al-Islam said it would not heed the government’s request to release the four ICC staff before questioning them.

“They are still under investigation,” a member of the brigade said. “The visiting delegation won’t see them just yet.”

The ICC named the three other staff members as Helene Assaf, an ICC translator and interpreter since 2005; Esteban Peralta Losilla, the chief of the Counsel Support Section at the ICC; and Alexander Khodakov, a Russian career diplomat who is the external relations and cooperation senior adviser at the registry of the ICC.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday also urged Libyan authorities to release Taylor, as Canberra ramped up diplomatic efforts to secure the woman’s freedom.

“I am very concerned about the detention of Ms. Taylor,” Gillard told reporters.

“We are calling on the Libyan government to expedite the end of Ms. Taylor’s detention.”

Gillard said while she had been assured that Taylor was safe and well, Canberra wanted to see her detention “come to an end as quickly as possible” and had dispatched to the country its ambassador-designate to Libya.

Australia would also work with Spain, Russia and Lebanon − whose nationals comprise the other members of the ICC team − to raise its concerns, she added.

Earlier Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he had spoken to Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz to raise his concerns about Taylor, who has so far been unable to speak to consular officials or her husband.

“I said that her welfare is very, very important to us,” Carr told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We want consular access and we hope we can have it soon. We hope we can have it today. We would like this resolved quickly so that she can rejoin her husband in The Hague and their two-year-old child.”

Australian officials would not comment on the allegations against Taylor, reported to be 36, who was detained after a meeting with Seif in the town of Zintan, some 180 kilometers (110 miles) from Tripoli.

Ahmed Jehani, Libya’s envoy to the ICC, has said that Taylor is in detention because she was found “exchanging papers with the accused Seif al-Islam”.

Jehani alleged that Taylor was carrying a pen camera and a letter from Mohammed Ismail, Seif’s former right-hand man who is now on the run.

Jehani said the letter contained drawings and symbols, a “code” that would only be understood by the sender and the intended recipient, Seif.

“According to Libyan law, it would be spying, communication with the enemy,” the envoy said.

Carr said he had been told that Taylor was not being held in jail or under arrest and that she was in good health.

She was “being detained not by the militia, not by the freedom fighters but by the judicial police as they are called and she is therefore the responsibility of the attorney-general of Libya”, he said.

In a statement from the foreign ministry, Taylor’s parents said their thoughts were “very much with our daughter, Melinda, and her colleagues” but added that they would not comment further publicly.

The ICC team was in Libya to help Seif choose a defense lawyer and the court has said that the visit was authorized by Libya’s chief prosecutors. The Hague-based ICC wants to try Seif, 39, for crimes against humanity.

But the new regime in Libya wants to put Seif on trial in a local court, while ex-rebels in Zintan who are holding Qaddafi’s son are refusing to send him to Tripoli for fear that he might escape.

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