A court in Libya on Tuesday sentenced a son of Moammar Gadhafi to death by firing squad after convicting him of murder and inciting genocide during the country’s 2011 civil war.
It is unlikely, however, that the sentence against Seif al-Islam Gadhafi will be carried out anytime soon, as a militia in western Libya has refused to hand him over to the government for the past four years.
That uncertainty reflects the chaos still gripping this North African nation split between rival militias and governments while facing an affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.
The Tripoli court sentenced to death eight others, including former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who is in their custody. Also sentenced to death were foreign intelligence chief Abuzed Omar-Dorda and Gadhafi’s former Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi.
The rulings can be appealed, and a defense lawyer in the case, Ali Aldaa, said he would challenge it before the Libyan Supreme Court. The Tripoli-based top court has in the past ruled the Tobruk government as illegitimate, raising questions over whether it is under pressure from militias that dominate the city.
Only 29 of the 38 Gadhafi-era figures were present in court. Six others were sentenced to life in prison and four were cleared of charges.FILE – In this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 file photo, Seif al-Islam is seen after his capture in the custody of revolutionary fighters in Zintan. (AP Photo/Ammar El-Darwish, File)
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the trial was “undermined by serious due process violations,” and called on the Libyan Supreme Court to independently review the verdict. Other international organizations, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe, also condemned the verdict.
“This trial has been plagued by persistent, credible allegations of fair trial breaches that warrant independent and impartial judicial review,” said Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The victims of the serious crimes committed during the 2011 uprising deserve justice, but that can only be delivered through fair and transparent proceedings.”
The Council of Europe said the case should have been turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which wants Seif al-Islam on charges of crimes against humanity.
Libya has slid into chaos since the overthrow and killing of Gadhafi, who ruled the country for four decades. It is now bitterly divided between an elected parliament and government cornered in the country’s east, with little power on the ground, and an Islamist militia-backed government in the west that has seized the capital, Tripoli.
Since the end of the civil war, Seif al-Islam has been held by a militia in Zintan, which is allied with the Tobruk-based internationally recognized government against the Tripoli one. The court that convicted him is affiliated with the Tripoli-based government.
During the trial, Seif al-Islam was accused of recruiting mercenaries who were given Libyan nationality, planning and carrying out attacks on civilian targets from the air, forming armed groups and shooting into crowds of demonstrators. Among the charges he was convicted of were incitement of murder and rape.
Hundreds of militias in Libya are battling for power and turf in a lawless environment has allowed human traffickers and kidnappers to flourish. Meanwhile, extremists returning from fighting in the Syrian civil war have created a local affiliate of the Islamic State group, taking territory and beheading captives.
The U.N. envoy for Libya has urged the Islamist-led government in Tripoli to sign a peace deal that would establish a unity government. Members of the Tobruk government and regional leaders signed the unity accord in Morocco on July 11.