Chris Stephen

January 8, 2012

Home for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is currently a converted living room with a dirty beige carpet in a compound close to Zintan, a modest mountain town 100 miles south-east of Libya’s capital, Tripoli. Uniformed guards are his only company and he is denied visitors, television, radio and the internet.

He shakes hands with his few visitors with his left hand, because the thumb and forefinger of his right have been severed. He insists this was the result of being targeted in a Nato air strike, but some Libyans think it was the work of a rebel sympathiser, as punishment for Saif’s habit of wagging his finger at rebels on his television broadcasts. Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, granted a rare interview with Saif, reported that he looked well and gets fed three times a day. What Saif does not get is access to a lawyer, or any sight of the charges that Libya’s new rulers say he faces.

Which is why, less than three months after his father’s death, Saif is fast becoming an unlikely rallying point for international human rights advocates. It is a twist of fate no one would have anticipated, but Libya’s rulers face increasing criticism over their failure to fulfil promises to set up a proper justice system. Saif, always the most influential son of the late Muammar Gaddafi, has been languishing in his makeshift prison cell since being arrested by militias in November.

The failure of the authorities to tell him what he is charged with or give him access to a lawyer has prompted a torrent of criticism from rights groups.

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