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Saif al-Islam Gaddafi re-enters election race

The Sebha court accepts Saif al-Islam's appeal against the electoral commission's decision and authorises the son of the late Libyan dictator to stand as a candidate in the presidential elections
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

 -   Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

Libya's Supreme Electoral Commission on 25 November annulled the candidacy of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in the presidential elections on 24 December. These elections, strongly backed by the international community, have as their main objective the stabilisation of a country that has suffered more than ten years of violent and convulsive clashes between rival groups that aspire to control the territory.  

However, last Thursday, after a long appearance of Saif al-Islam in front of the court in the southwestern city of Sebha, the appeal of the dictator's son was accepted by the Libyan judiciary. This ruling in his favour allows Saif al-Islam to re-establish his candidacy for the December elections, in which he will face other strong contenders such as the current Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbebebe, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, former Foreign Minister Abdel Hadi Al-Hwaij and former Interior Minister Fathi Basagha.

Sebha, an oasis city in the southwest of the country, was the city chosen by Saif al-Islam to officially present his candidacy, and it is now the city whose justice reaffirms his candidacy. This is no coincidence. This municipality is the stronghold of the Qadhadhfa tribe, an Arab-Berber community with strong ties to Gaddafi's family, and where the Libyan dictator grew up and was introduced to political activism.

Saif al-Islam Gadafi
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
A complicated appeal

Saif al-Islam's appeal proceedings were also fraught with tensions and difficulties. Throughout the week, a group of armed men surrounded the Sebha court to prevent the judges from entering the courtroom. They displayed the logo of the Tariq bin Ziyad brigade, one of the militias linked to the LNA and reportedly under the control of Khalifa Haftar. 

In this regard, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) stated that it was "following with great concern the continued closure of the court of appeals in Sebha", where this obstruction to the work of the judges was "directly impeding the electoral process".

The group of men finally withdrew last Thursday, allowing the three judges and Saif al-Islam's lawyer, along with the dictator's son, to enter the building and continue with the appeal.    

Khalifa Haftar
Khalifa Haftar
Saif al-Islam and Justice

The reason that led the Libyan electoral commission to revoke Gaddafi's candidacy is related to the process of submitting documentation. The supreme institution claimed that the candidate had not submitted to the commission a certificate of no outstanding criminal record, as a warrant for his arrest was issued for his arrest in 2011.

The list of convictions and search and arrest warrants for Saif al-Islam is long. In addition to an indictment for war crimes committed during the 2011 uprising - in which his father was killed by rebel militias - the son of Muammar Gaddafi was sentenced to capital punishment for "killing protesters during the Libyan uprising" by a court in Tripoli in 2015. However, Saif al-Islam was in the hands of a group of rebels who eventually handed him over to Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The former leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) provided protection for the convicted man and, through an amnesty granted by the marshal's government, Saif al-Islam was released from serving his sentence in 2016. 

Another of the convictions of the dictator's son is the one issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing him of committing crimes against humanity. In addition to this, two other arrest warrants issued by the Libyan Prosecutor's Office in two different years attribute Saif al-Islam's rapprochement and relationship with Russian mercenary groups to Saif al-Islam. This issue has been scrutinised by the BBC, which aired an investigation into the Libyan politician's ties with the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation present in the Libyan conflict.