It appears that Libya's Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamloum, underestimated the public reaction to his statements before the International Criminal Court (ICC) last Tuesday. The ICC was hearing an appeal from the defence team of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi's who were disputing the case's admissibility before the international court. During the court hearing the minister agreed that the case against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi is admissible, meaning that the international court should proceed in trying him. He even referred to Gaddafi as a fugitive as he is not being held in detention in Libya.
While the ICC has yet to return its ruling on the case, there is an expectation that it will reject the appeal and request Gaddafi's extradition to stand trial. On condition of anonymity, one Libyan commentator told me, "backed by the Minister of Justice himself the ICC might find itself with no other option but to proceed against Mr. Gaddafi." He added: "Even if the court would like to drop the case it will be difficult." Having Libya's minister of justice backing the extradition of Gaddafi considerably weakens the defence's case.
By Thursday 14 November, the Government of National Accord's Ministry of Justice was scrambling to calm the situation. It called me asking that I take down the report; I refused because I'd reported the facts. Over the phone a senior ministry adviser asked me to "help [us] get out of the mess" as he put it. Ali Thabout, adviser to Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamloum, wanted me to say a few positive things about the official pointing out the "good work he has being doing". I explained that is not my job.
He then asked "how do we get out of this mess." I proposed the Ministry of Justice announce its opposition to the extradition of any Libyan citizen as a matter of principle. I also suggested that they might reinforce that by having the minister himself on live TV reinforcing that position. The new viewpoint should then be communicate to the ICC.
For the majority of Libyans, the principle is this; Libyan sovereignty, laws and the country's judiciary should be respected and cherished. Doubting it or casting questions about its legitimacy before an international body is wrong.
The Libyan Association for Members of the Judiciary had taken to Facebook to not only condemn and reject the "idea of extraditing any Libyan" to the ICC but also advised the ICC to take care of the real "crimes against humanity committed by the Zionist state", in reference to the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza strip.
While the public backlash is not a vote for Gaddafi, it is a vote of confidence in the country's judicial system and the integrity of its men and women. At the time when almost everything else is divided and collapsing, the judiciary, despite its myriad of problems, rallies Libyans as it symbolises their unity and aspirations. The call is simple; no Libyan should ever be sent abroad to stand trial!
Ordinary Libyans felt hurt and angered by the fact that the minister of justice stood up at the ICC to throw mud at the country's courts when he is supposed to defend them.
Until the time of publishing the minister is still abroad afraid to return home while his staff ponder how to approach the ICC and, officially, correct the error that was made last week.
To me, and many others, it is abundantly clear that Ahmed Al-Jahani, Libya's representative to the ICC, is the one who committed the minister of justice to something without his agreement. It was him who repeated the statement that the case is admissible to the ICC's presiding judge.
Observing the proceedings inside the court chamber, I could easily see that Mohamed Lamloum was disturbed and appeared uncomfortable as Al-Jahani stood up and uttered his answer. This however does not make him less responsible. He is the minister and he gave the final say!
What will happen now is still an open question. Will the Ministry of Justice really change its submission to the ICC, rejecting the extradition of Saif Al-Islam or will it just weather out the storm and leave things as they are?
Ali Thabout is almost certain that the position will be corrected. He said: "The ministry's position has always been to reject the extradition of Libyans to the ICC."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.