By Monia Ghanmi and Essam Mohamed
A Tunis appellate court on Thursday (October 27th) freed former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi on bail pending an extradition decision. The verdict on extradition will be announced on November 22nd.
“The judge gave us a provisional release,” said his lawyer, Mabrouk Kourchid. “We think it is an honourable decision that respects human rights. This way, the judges have proven that the Tunisian judiciary has become independent and fair after the revolution.”
Kourchid, however, said that his client’s “life may be in danger if he is handed over to Libyan authorities”.
Al-Mahmoudi was arrested September 27th in Tamaghza while attempting to cross into Algeria. He was convicted of illegal entry and sentenced to six months in prison. His attorneys argued that as a government official travelling in wartime, he had a right under the Geneva Convention to enter Tunisia.
In Libya, the former premier was accused of murder and corruption. Al-Mahmoudi denied his involvement in the oppression of Moamer Kadhafi’s era and expressed his willingness to co-operate with Libya’s transitional government.
Meanwhile, National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustapha Abdel Jalil in mid-October confirmed that Tunisia would send al-Mahmoudi back to Tripoli. Tunisia and Libya signed an agreement in 1961 governing bilateral judicial co-operation and stipulating the extradition of fugitive criminals, Abdel Jalil said during his October 12th joint conference with Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi in Benghazi.
The court decision angered some Libyans. Many feel that the NTC has not done enough to secure Al-Mahmoudi’s extradition to Libya.
“It seems that the Libyan authorities have not submitted a full and convincing file to the Tunisian judiciary through which they can take a clear decision on this issue, which made them postpone the examination of the extradition request for another month,” lawyer Chiheb Sammoudi said.
“It is the duty of Libya’s NTC to submit a request for his extradition because he is in fact a war criminal who took part in killing of Libyans up to the last minute along with Kadhafi,” said journalist Otham al-Busifi.
According to activist Samira Ali, Tunisia “doesn’t find strong ground based on which it can hand over” Al-Mahmoudi.
“In addition, Tunisia doesn’t want to be the first country to extradite wanted individuals to the revolutionaries, while there are other Arab and Western countries that host aides of the former Libyan regime and haven’t extradited them,” Ali added.
Abdullah al-Wafi, a journalist from Az-Zawiya, urged Tunisian authorities to “co-operate with the Libya revolution” by sending back the man who “was involved in crimes against humanity”.
“Failure to extradite him may constitute a bad legal precedent on the part of the interim government in Tunisia that might affect the goals of the Tunisian-Libyan accord, on which Tunisians and Libyans are pinning great economic and social hopes,” al-Wafi added.