TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) — Tunisia extradited Libya’s former prime minister to Libya on Sunday, making him the first senior official to be returned for trial under Libya’s transitional leadership.
The former official, Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, was turned over to the Libyan Justice Ministry and transferred to a prison, Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, said. Mr. Mahmoudi served as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s prime minister from 2006 until last year, when he fled to Tunisia as rebels pressed their fight to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi.
Mr. Mahmoudi was arrested in September for illegally crossing into Tunisia, and Libya’s interim government has been clamoring for his extradition, arguing that he must answer for what it says are crimes against the Libyan people.
Mr. Mahmoudi’s extradition could establish a precedent for other countries that have given refuge to or arrested members of the ousted government of Colonel Qaddafi, who was killed by rebels in October.
Libya’s interim government and the International Criminal Court, which indicted Colonel Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi in June for crimes against humanity stemming from the crackdown on last year’s revolt, have argued for months over where he should be tried.
The interim government considers it a matter of national pride and a mark of Libya’s transformation for Mr. Qaddafi and other Qaddafi loyalists to be tried in Libya. But human rights groups have questioned whether Libya’s justice system can meet international legal standards and say that Mr. Qaddafi should be handed to the International Criminal Court.
Mabrouk Khorchid, Mr. Mahmoudi’s lawyer in Tunisia, said neither he nor Mr. Mahmoudi’s family had been given any warning that Mr. Mahmoudi was about to be extradited.
“I believe this is a state crime and is against human rights,” he said. “This is a sad moment for human rights in Tunisia. I think he’s going to be tortured and treated illegally and believe that those who handed him over bear part of the responsibility.”
A spokesman for President Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia said that the president had not authorized the extradition and that the responsibility lay with the prime minister’s office.
Mr. Mahmoudi’s fate has been a problem for the Tunisian authorities.
As the first Arab country to stage a successful revolt last year, Tunisia sees itself as standard-bearer for human rights in the region. It was reluctant to hand over Mr. Mahmoudi to a jurisdiction where, human rights advocates say, he is unlikely to be given a fair trial.
At the same time, Tunisia’s economy is stuttering, raising the risk of social unrest that could loosen the government’s hold on power. Tunisia badly needs Libyan trade and investment, something Libya may have linked to Mr. Mahmoudi’s extradition.