By Houda Trabelsi
Tunisia’s interim ministers on Monday (June 25th) backed the decision to extradite former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi, which divided the country’s political landscape.
“The extradition process took place after completion of all legal justifications by the relevant judicial authorities to decide in the case, noting that the prime minister signed the extradition decision on the basis of his powers under the decree of the Law of Provisional Organisation of Public Authorities,” Human Rights Minister and government spokesman Samir Dilou said at the Monday press conference at the Kasbah.
He noted that the government would not get involved in the “media debate” and respond to the earlier statement of the presidency.
In a communique issued on Sunday (June 24th), the president denounced the move to hand over Al-Mahmoudi as “illegal”, “unilateral” and “without consultation”, saying that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali had “overstepped his prerogatives”.
“The extradition order, signed by the prime minister, is a clear breach of our country’s international obligations and to the United Nations,” the statement read.
“The most important thing is respect for the facts, the constitution, the superiority of the law and giving priority to the interests of the country,” Dilou said.
In his turn, Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri said: “Since September 27th, 2011, the date of Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi’s arrest, Tunisia received a request from the Libyan judicial authorities for his extradition to them. But the Tunisian government preferred to follow the legal routes to hand over the file of the accused to the Tunisian judiciary.”
The two countries are bound by the 1961 agreement, which obliges them to extradite wanted persons to the judiciary of the governments, he reminded.
“The Tunisian government sent a committee to Libya last May 30th and 31st to assess the conditions of detention of the former officials in Libyan prisons, and it met some of the detainees and followed the trials in Libya. It established in its report that it had no objection to the extradition of Libyan citizen Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi to the authorities of his country,” Bhiri said on Monday.
The extradition sparked condemnations from rights activists.
“It’s a decision which violates the most basic principles of human rights and ratified international conventions, especially those against torture, as well as its breaches the powers of the presidency, which was not notified of the decision being taken,” said Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) chief Abdessatar Ben Moussa.
Most international organisations were unanimous that the circumstances of the trial lacked independence, security and stability, he added.
The extradition “will also have negative repercussions at home and abroad, considering that the Libyan authorities will not abide by their pledge with the Tunisian government regarding Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, which will make the situation more complicated,” he warned.
Others, however, supported the move. Activist Zied Hamli said that the decision to hand over Al-Mahmoudi was “right”.
“We contradict ourselves,” he said. “How can we demand extradition of Ben Ali, Belhassen [Trabelsi] and Sakher [Materi] at least popularly and at the same time oppose the extradition of Al-Baghdadi to his people under pretexts of human rights as though we were guardians of these rights?”
Opinions are varied among Libyans in Tunisia.
For Salah Mahmoud, a young man living in a hotel where supporters of the former Libyan regime reside, the act of the Tunisian government was “shameful”.
“It has nothing to do with all norms of human values and international treaties,” he told Magharebia. “Everyone knows the difficult situation in Libya, which made us flee to Tunisia and to other countries, fearful of the wrath of supporters of the current government in Libya.”
Moatez Bellah, who lives in the same hotel in the northern suburb of the capital, said: “The Tunisian government sold al-Baghdadi for a handful of money, flouting all norms and human values, despite the difficult situation in Libya amid militias controlling the country and killing subjects without trial, just as they did with the late Colonel Moamer Kadhafi, God have mercy upon him.”
Ahmed, a young man who lives in another hotel in the centre of the capital, had a different view.
“What the Tunisian government did is a victory for the Libyan and Tunisian revolutions, which are seeking to hold criminals of the former regime accountable,” he said.