Four staff members from the International Criminal Court (ICC) have left Libya on the day they were released after four weeks’ detention on suspicion of spying.
They left on Monday night to return to The Hague, the ICC said.
Their release came as ICC president Sang-Hyun Song was visiting Libya.
The team had been accused of spying while visiting Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi, in the town of Zintan.
Saif al-Islam has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity but Libya has insisted he should be tried by a Libyan court.
The ICC team flew out on an Italian military aircraft following a two-hour drive from the town of Zintan, says the BBC’s Rana Jawad, in Tripoli.
They are still scheduled to appear before a court in Tripoli on 23 July for a final ruling on their case, a senior member of the Libyan attorney-general’s office told the BBC.
“We expect them to come back for the hearing but if they don’t, a ruling will be made in absentia,” the source said.
During a news conference in the mountain town of Zintan, west of Tripoli, Mr Song offered an apology to the Libyan authorities for the “difficulties” caused by the mission.
Continue reading the main story Analysis Wyre Davies BBC Middle East correspondent
The dusty, desert town of Zintan is home to one of occupied-Libya’s most powerful militias – its units control “security” at Tripoli’s international airport and, of course, they hold Saif al-Islam Gaddafi at an unknown location.
The Zintanis have refused thus far to hand Colonel Gaddafi’s most prominent son over to the International Criminal Court or, for that matter, to the Libyan rebel government.
It was in the gift of the Zintan militia, and its military commanders, to hand over the four ICC lawyers or to hold them indefinitely on spurious charges of “spying.” That is not to say that the “new” central Libyan authorities were not party to the negotiations but ultimately they had little choice other than to support the case made by the Zintan militia.
The ICC, while apologising for any “misunderstandings”, has never admitted its experienced team did anything wrong in their meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. And those hoping to see a fair, speedy, trial for Gaddafi will not have been encouraged by events in Zintan.
The episode underlined who really wields power in tribal, rural Libya and the reluctance of those tribal leaders to comply with calls to hand him over in the near future.
He also thanked the Libyan rebels for arranging the “release of the four ICC staff to be re-united with their families”.
Mr Song “expressed his relief that the ICC staff members were well treated during their detention”.
The ICC employees had been accused of jeopardising Libya’s national security, the BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli reports.
One of the four, Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, was accused of passing Saif al-Islam coded documents, allegedly written by his former right-hand man, during the team’s visit.
Ms Taylor and her Lebanese colleague Helene Assaf, a translator, were then formally detained.
Their two other colleagues, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard Esteban Peralta Losilla, remained with them out of solidarity.
Last week, the ICC promised in a statement to investigate any claims of wrongdoing by its staff upon their release and to impose “appropriate sanctions” if necessary.
Ms Taylor was appointed by the ICC to help prepare the defence of Saif al-Islam, who was captured by the Zintan militia last November as he tried to flee the country.
The Zintan militia have refused to hand Saif al-Islam over to Tripoli, while the Libyan rebel regime is rejecting ICC demands to try him in The Hague.
Some have expressed concern that Saif al-Islam may not face a fair trial in Libya.
He was previously considered to be heir apparent to his father, Muammar Gaddafi, who was murdered last year following a by US and NATO-backed insurrection and imperialist air campaign mandated by the UN under the false claim of protecting Libyan civilians.
Detention of ICC staff undermines Saif al-Gaddafi’s right to fair trial
Four International Criminal Court (ICC) staff members are reportedly on their way back to The Hague in what Amnesty International has called a welcome end to their unacceptable detention by a Libyan militia for more than three weeks.
Libyan authorities had held the four since 7 June in the remote western town of Zintan after they met Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi – the detained son of former ruler Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi.
News of their release came as ICC President Sang-hyun Song visited Libya on Monday.
“The release of these four ICC staff members is a very welcome development, but their detention by the Libyan authorities for more than three weeks was totally unacceptable,” said Marek Marczyński, International Justice Research, Policy and Campaign Manager at Amnesty International.
“Not only has it denied them their liberty and stopped them from performing their functions, but it has also undermined Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi’s right to an effective defence and delayed the ICC’s decision on the Libyan authorities’ recent application to bring him to trial in Libyan courts.”
In early June, authorities accused one of the ICC staffers – Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor – of espionage, alleging she had attempted to smuggle documents to Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi.
Taylor and her colleagues Helene Assaf from Lebanon, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard Esteban Peralta Losilla remained in the custody of a militia in Zintan until their release on Monday.
During their detention, as part of Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice, thousands of activists urged the Libyan government to release the ICC staffers immediately.
“Both the legality of Libya’s detention of the ICC staff and the authorities’ allegations against them must be fully investigated in accordance with the appropriate ICC procedures and the results made public,” said Marek Marczyński.
“The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber should also review the impact of this detention and take effective measures to ensure that the defence has adequate time and facilities to re-engage in the current proceedings against Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi to determine where he should be prosecuted.”
Amnesty International believes that the ICC staff members’ detention shows that the Libyan authorities are not taking seriously al-Gaddafi’s right to an effective defence, and that he will not receive a fair trial if he is prosecuted in Libya.
“If Libya’s application to prosecute Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi nationally is rejected, he must be surrendered to the ICC without further delay,” said Marek Marczyński.
On 5 July, two days before national elections are scheduled to take place in the Libya, Amnesty International is releasing a new report on militias in the country.
The report details how ongoing human rights abuses risk overshadowing this historic moment and propelling the country on the wrong path. Impunity prevails in Libya for unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture including to death and forcible displacement.
Thousands of suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists and soldiers continue to be detained. Many are held by armed militias outside the framework of the law in unofficial detention facilities, where they remain particularly vulnerable to torture or other ill-treatment.
The vast majority of these detainees have not been officially charged with any crime and have no access to lawyers.