x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tunisia extradites Libya's former PM Al Mahmoudi home to face trial

President of the interim government in Tunis, Moncef Marzouki, declares the extradition illegal, and says Tunisia's prime minister is responsible for anything that happens to Mr Al Mahmoudi in Libya.

TUNIS //A row erupted in Tunisia yesterday after former Libyan prime minister Al Baghdadi Ali Al Mahmoudi was sent back to his home country to face trial, deepening rifts in the Tunisian leadership.

The president of the interim government in Tunis, Moncef Marzouki, declared the extradition illegal, and condemned the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, for approving it without consulting him.

In a statement released to state media, Mr Marzouki said that he had rejected the extradition, which took place on Sunday, and held the prime minister responsible for anything that happens to Mr Al Mahmoudi in Libya.

Sending him back to Libya "is a blatant violation of Tunisia's international and UN commitments," he said.

Last year, human-rights groups issued a statement warning that Mr Al Mahmoudi, who was prime minister under Muammar Qaddafi, was likely to face torture and unfair treatment in Libya.

A spokesman for the Libyan transitional government, speaking from Tripoli, confirmed that Mr Al Mahmoudi was being held in a Libyan prison, and said he would be fairly treated and given access to a lawyer. However, the spokesman added, "he is a criminal and we have records of him endorsing raping and killing of civilians".

The Tunisian prime minister, who is from the Islamist Ennahda party, the dominant force in the transitional government, has for months been at odds on the issue of the extradition with the president, who is from a smaller party.

After Ennahda won a plurality of seats in elections in October, the first since the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, they formed a coalition with two secular parties, reassuring some Tunisians who were concerned about an Islamist-dominated government.

But a series of disagreements has rocked the coalition, including a row over the legality of the screening of the movie Persepolis on a Tunisian television channel and differing responses to a wave of riots instigated by religious extremists.

The extradition looks like an assertion of political strength by Ennahda, said Hamadi Redissi, a professor of political science at Al Manar University in Tunis.

"I think Ennahda want to show the president that they are the ones who decide things," said Mr Redissi. "I think the coalition is finished. They have shown many conflicts and disorder since they were elected. This is not an alliance. You can feel it in the air."

Officials from Ennahda may also have been displeased, Mr Redissi said, by visits Mr Marzouki has made to the provinces, which seemed like the initial stages of a campaign to be re-elected president.

Adnan Mancer, a spokesman for the president, said that the president would bring the case before the constituent assembly that acts as the country's ruling body. He would also take "other measures," but these have not yet been disclosed.

The human-rights minister and government spokesman, Samir Dilou, told reporters in Tunis that the government had respected the law in extraditing Mr Al Mahmoudi, and had sent a committee to Libya to investigate whether he would be treated well there.

"We are sure that the Libyan authorities will respect their obligations," he said.

Mr Al Mahmoudi's lawyers told Tunisian state media that their client had been transferred to the capital's military airport at dawn Sunday, "surreptitiously", without his family or lawyers being informed.

Counsel Lilia Mestiri said that the extradition was illegal, adding that "the operation had been conducted secretly, during a day off and in a shameful way".

afordham@thenational.ae