By Houda Trabelsi
Tunisia agreed to extradite former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi “within days or weeks”, Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri announced on Tuesday (May 22nd).
“Tunisia would not extradite the former minister if the Libyan side did not provide guarantees for a fair trial, or if his life were in danger,” presidential spokesperson Adnen Manser said.
Ennahda party spokesman Nejib Gharbi also confirmed that Tunis and Tripoli were consulting on the date and details of the transfer.
Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi was arrested last September in Tamaghza while attempting to cross into Algeria. Libya has charged him with inciting rapes in the northwestern town of Zuwara during the revolution against the Moamer Kadhafi regime. He has also been indicted for financial corruption.
Tunisia’s announcement that it would hand over the 67-year-old ex-minister came less than one week after Libyan Interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El Keib raised the extradition issue during bilateral talks in Tunis with his counterpart Hamadi Jebali.
El Keib had previously confirmed his country’s ability to guarantee a fair trial.
“The Tunisian government is co-operating with Libya,” Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur said Wednesday at a press conference in Tripoli.
“The Libyan people and government believe in human rights, whether in connection with al-Baghdadi or Saif al-Islam al-Kadhafi or anyone else; all will receive good treatment as per human rights standards,” he said.
As Al-Mahmoudi’s extradition appeared imminent, he began a hunger strike on Monday. He also released a statement denying any involvement in war crimes or human rights violations. According to the former Kadhafi official, returning him to Libya would cause “his immediate execution”.
His legal team also condemned the extradition decision, alleging that it “violated Tunisian law”.
“This serious development doesn’t fit the dignity of Tunisia and the revolution of its people,” defence attorney Bechir Essid said. “It is a shame on Tunisia’s officials, the Tunisian state and its people,” he said.
“There is something hidden between the authorities in Tunisia and the National Transitional Council in Libya. This might have been related to a financial or economic deal,” Essid claimed.
Despite assurances from both sides of an imminent hand-over, the extradition decision only takes effective if the order is signed by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki.
He has said, however, that he would not extradite al-Mahmoudi unless Libya provided the necessary conditions for his fair detention and trial.
Al-Mahmoudi’s lead defence attorney confirmed that the decision “waits to be signed by the President”.
“We appeal to Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki not to sign the extradition order because this would tarnish his legacy,” Mabrouk Kourchid added.