TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan authorities freed 12 political prisoners on Thursday after mediation by a human rights group which has had links to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“The 12 were released this afternoon after spending close to a quarter of their jail terms for belonging to various banned political groups,” the chairman of the Libya-based Human Rights Association Mohamed Ternish told Reuters.
“About six of them had been sentenced to life imprisonment and the remainder to jail terms of at least three years. The released are in their 20s, others in 30s and 40s,” he added.
Quryna online newspaper said the 12 had been jailed in the early 1990s for belonging to “a banned armed group” and attributed their release to “efforts by the Human Rights Association that were sponsored by Saif al-Islam”.
Saif al-Islam has been one of the most vocal supporters of reforms in Libya.
His Gaddafi Foundation charity organization announced in December that it was quitting politics, and Ternish said Saif al-Islam had broken links with the Human Rights Association.
Such moves led analysts to believe that his reform drive was losing ground in a power struggle with conservatives, including some of his siblings.
But media close to Saif al-Islam have been vocal about sensitive issues such as the army, the absence of a constitution and public governance since the popular revolt in neighbouring Tunisia.
Ternish said Saif al-Islam had for months been pushing for the release of political prisoners.
“The association has for a long time been pressing for the release of these 12 prisoners ... This release is a step by the Human Rights Association towards freeing the remainder of political prisoners. There are not many left, just few dozens,” Ternish added.
Last year Libya released dozens of members of a radical Islamist group jailed for plotting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s government.