Libya welcomes Gaddafi photo compensation offer

Geneva's cantonal president, François Longchamp, says the Tribune de Genève was ultimately responsible for publishing the photo of Hannibal Keystone

A top Libyan has welcomed as a "step forward" an acknowledgment by canton Geneva that damages should be paid to Hannibal Gaddafi after his police photo was published.

This content was published on March 18, 2010 - 09:34

Canton Geneva says it regrets the mugshot of Hannibal appeared in the Tribune de Genève newspaper last year and is prepared to pay compensation to the son of the Libyan leader.

The issue is the latest chapter in a row between the two countries.

Libyan Public Security Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi on Wednesday welcomed the comments but said Switzerland must meet other Libyan demands if ties between the two countries were to improve.

"It's a step forward," Abidi told Reuters. ”But they must still reverse the decision to ban the construction of minarets... and also remove the list of Libyan people forbidden from entering Switzerland."

He was referring to Switzerland’s November 2009 referendum banning the construction of minarets, and the country’s decision to impose a travel blacklist on nearly 200 prominent Libyans, including Moammar Gaddafi and his inner circle.

In a statement released earlier on Wednesday, the canton said it deplored that the newspaper had come into possession of the mugshot. Authorities said a cantonal employee seemed to have been behind the newspaper getting the photos.

Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were detained in July 2008 after police received complaints that they had seriously mistreated two of their servants.

In December Hannibal Gaddafi filed a civil lawsuit for breaching his legal protection of personality, demanding SFr100,000 ($95,000). He sued canton Geneva, the Tribune de Genève newspaper – in which the mugshot appeared on September 4, 2009 – and one of the paper’s journalists.

The canton proposed an “appropriate compensation” for Hannibal Gaddafi but added that although it did not want to abdicate its responsibility, the main role had been played by the newspaper, which it said was solely responsible for taking the decision to print the photo.

For its part, the Tribune said it was “shocked” by some of the Geneva government’s written statements to the court. On its website, chief editor Pierre Ruetschi said being found guilty ahead of the court’s decision on Thursday was “intolerable”.

The paper’s editor told that he would not apologise as they had published the photos for legitimate journalistic purposes.

A civil case is set to begin on Thursday. The court is to decide how the compensation to Libya will be divided between the Tribune de Genève and the canton.

Sordid legal affair

Christa Markwalder, president of the House of Representative’s foreign affairs committee, said on Tuesday that Geneva had taken a step in the right direction. Luc Barthassat, a member of the foreign affairs committee, added there had been “big pressures” to find a solution.

“The canton of Geneva was not forced to do so, but they always recognised the appearance of the photos was a problem. So if we manage to liberate our hostage [Max Göldi] via this kind of ‘excuse’, then why not?” he said.

Social Democrat parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga said it was one of the elements on the table that had to be resolved.

“The publication of the mugshots of the son of Moammar Gaddafi, like those of any Swiss citizen, was a breach of official secrets and posed a problem. This gesture goes in the right direction, as it should certainly bring us closer to a resolution to the tension over the detention of Mr Göldi.”

Martine Brunschwig Graf from the Radical Party said it was an “important, balanced gesture” taken not due to the personality of Hannibal Gaddafi “but due to the fact that we recognise a citizen’s rights and the state is assuming its responsibilities”.

Hasni Abidi, director of the Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World, warned that Switzerland risked entering a “spiral of concessions” with Libya, pointing out that Geneva’s gesture was only part of what the Libyans were demanding.

“We are in a weak position,” he said on Wednesday, referring to Switzerland. “In these circumstances, Bern should keep the support of a very important country that is respected by Libya: Germany.”

He also said Switzerland shouldn’t make more concessions “without getting anything in return”.

Strained relations

Relations between Switzerland and Libya have been strained ever since the arrest, with Libya taking a number of retaliatory measures against Switzerland.

Libya demanded an apology for the arrest and imposed economic measures against Switzerland, including closing Swiss companies, stopping flights, halting oil exports to Switzerland and withdrawing deposits from Swiss banks in protest.

It also detained two Swiss nationals, one of whom, Max Göldi, is currently serving a four-month prison sentence on visa violation charges.

On Tuesday Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Berlin to hold talks with her German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. The bilateral problems between Switzerland and Libya were on the agenda, with Switzerland stressing it was working hard to find a diplomatic solution.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday Libya demanded an apology from the European Union for the barring of senior Libyans including leader Moammar Gaddafi and members of his family from entering Europe’s 25-state Schengen zone.

“Our historic leader feels offended,” the Libyan ambassador in Madrid told El País newspaper, adding that only an explanation “with a clear apology” by Sunday would normalise relations and result in the lifting of a Libyan visa ban to members of the Schengen zone. and agencies

Appeal for Göldi

Amnesty International has launched an global appeal in support of Max Göldi, a Swiss national serving a four-month prison term in Libya.

The appeal is directed at the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. In it Amnesty expresses concern that Göldi is serving time for immigration offences after what it calls a politically motivated trial.

It opposes imprisonment as a punishment for immigration-related offences and says Göldi was detained because of his nationality. The organisation also says his trial did not meet fair trial standards as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Libya is a state party.

The appeal calls on the public to urge Libyan authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release him as he is a prisoner of conscience” and to allow him to return to Switzerland.

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Swiss-Libyan dispute

July 15, 2008: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife are arrested in Geneva and charged with abusing their staff. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland. The servants are later compensated and charges withdrawn.

July 19: Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are arrested in Tripoli. In the following days, Swiss businesses are forced to shut and the number of flights to Tripoli is cut.

August 20, 2009: The Swiss president apologises in Tripoli for the arrest.

September: Göldi and Hamdani cannot leave the country despite a promise they would be freed by September 1.They disappear after undergoing a medical check-up in Tripoli. They are returned to embassy on November 9.

November: Swiss cabinet says it will pursue visa restrictions for Libyans.

December 1: Göldi and Hamdani sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined. In January 2010 this is cut to 4 months for Göldi, and Hamdani found not guilty.

January - February 2010: Hamdani cleared of second charge of conducting business illegally. Göldi given modest fine.

February 14: A Libyan newspaper reports Switzerland has drawn up a blacklist of 188 top Libyans.

February 15: Libya stops issuing visas to citizens of nations in the Schengen zone.

February 17-18: Swiss, Libyan, Italian, Spanish and Maltese foreign ministers try to hammer out a solution.

February 22: Göldi hands himself over to Libyan authorities to start four month prison term. Hamdani obtains an exit visa and leaves for Tunisia. He arrives in Switzerland on February 23.

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