A court in Libya has sent 24 foreigners, mostly Ukrainians, to prison for supporting late leader Colonel Muamar al-Gaddafi’s regime by working on anti-aircraft missiles. The convicts say they are oil workers who were forced into the conflict which toppled Gaddafi.
A Russian deemed to be the ringleader received a life sentence, while a second Russian, nineteen Ukranians, and three Belarussians were all given ten years’ hard labour. Belarussian ambassador Anatoly Stepus attended yesterday’s hearing and expressed surprise at “the worst kind of sentence. We thought that even if they were sentenced it would not be so strict. They have suffered a lot.”
The Ukrainian ambassador, Mykola Nahornyi, called the decision “inconsistent with the laws of the countries of the citizens who were tried,” and described “evidence which the court has on file that they were threatened with weapons by Gaddafi forces to [engage in] the building and maintenance of anti-aircraft weapons”.
The men have been held since their capture in August last year by rebels who had taken the city of Tripoli. Libyans and other Africans were detained alongside them. The missiles at the heart of the case were used to target NATO aircraft, which were supporting the rebellion against Gaddafi. The revolt ultimately toppled the regime, which had stood for 42 years.
The trial commenced in April and the prosecution alleged then the men were complicit in Gaddafi attacks on civilians whilst being “in the pay of Gaddafi and his brigades”. Ukraine vowed then to seek freedom for its citizens, or at least repatriation to serve sentence.
The defendants appeared in a cage within Tripoli’s Court Complex to hear the outcome. An estimated 1,500 Ukrainians were in Libya when the conflict erupted in February last year, with Libya-Ukraine relations strong under Gaddafi’s leadership. Gaddafi’s nurse was Ukrainian and the European nation, alongside Russia, was among the last countries to recognise the legitimacy of the new government in Libya.