Tunisia’s president has rebuked the prime minister for allowing a close associate of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to be extradited to Libya, prompting fears of a split in the ruling coalition.
Government ministers allied with the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, have defended him, saying the extradition was within the prime minister’s powers.
The case exposes the tenuous nature of the power-sharing agreement in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, which consists of the Islamist Ennahda party that won the most seats in parliament and two secular parties.
Jebali is from the Ennahda, while President Moncef Marzouki is from the liberal Congress for the Republic.
Marzouki said Jebali overstepped his authority when he ordered the extradition of Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Gaddafi’s last prime minister, to Libya where he is wanted for alleged crimes.
Marzouki, a former human rights campaigner, had opposed the extradition on grounds that Al-Mahmoudi might not get a fair trial in Libya, and his life could be in danger.
“Extradition has more to do with Tunisia’s foreign policy than the judiciary, and foreign policy is the prerogative of the president of the republic,” he said in a statement conveyed by his spokesman, Adnan Mancer, late on Monday.
“It was an illegitimate decision taken unilaterally.”
In a press conference, Samir Dilou, human rights minister, and Nourreddine Bhiri, justice minister, supported the prime minister’s move.
“It was purely technical and administrative operation following the judicial, legal and constitutional procedures,” Dilou, who is also the government spokesman, said.
Bhiri said that the presidency “did not have the right to accept or refuse extraditions” a power he said belonged to the cabinet.
The two ministers are both from Jebali’s Ennahda party.
Mahmoudi, who was Libyan prime minister until the last days of the Gaddafi regime, was arrested on September 21 in Tunisia as he tried to flee to Algeria.
Two Tunisian court decisions backed Libya’s request to extradite him, but Marzouki had said in May he was opposed to the transfer unless Libya could guarantee it would respect Mahmoudi’s rights and give him a fair trial.
The extradition could establish a precedent for other countries who have given refuge to or arrested members of Gaddafi’s old entourage.
Libya’s government and the International Criminal Court, which indicted Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam 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.
Libya considers it a matter of national pride and a measure of the country’s transformation for Saif al-Islam’s and other Gaddafi loyalists trials to be held in Libya.
But human rights groups have questioned whether Libya’s justice system can meet the standards of international law and say he should be handed over to the ICC instead.
Test for judiciary
A Libyan defence ministry official, Mohammed al-Ahwal, said that a helicopter transferred Mahmoudi to the capital, Tripoli.
“As a result of the intense diplomatic efforts undertaken by the Libyan interim government … the Libyan government has received today Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi,” Abdel Rahim al-Kib, prime minister of Libya’s interim government, said on Sunday.
“The Libyan government promises that the accused man will be treated well, in accordance with our religious teachings, and in accordance with of international standards of human rights,” he said.
Kib said Mahmoudi was being held in a prison under supervision of the ministry of justice and the judiciary police.
Earlier on Sunday, Ridha Kazdaghli, a spokesperson for Tunisia’s prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, confirmed Mahmoudi’s transfer to Tripoli.
“The return of Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi is hugely significant, not just because of who he is, but because of what it means for Libya’s fledgling judicial process,” Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan reported from Tripoli.
Mabrouk Khorchid, Mahmoudi’s lawyer in Tunisia, said neither he nor the Mahmoudi’s family had been given any prior warning that he 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.”
Khorchid said he had not been allowed to see his client for 20 days and had heard that Mahmoudi had been placed in solitary confinement and had suffered a nervous breakdown since Tunisia’s justice minister said last month that an extradition was imminent.
“We called the presidency and they said they had not signed the extradition order and we were surprised that he was handed over like this,” he said.