Melinda Taylor and three colleagues accused of smuggling documents to Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, freed after apology.
Looking dazed but smiling, the international criminal court lawyer Melinda Taylor has been released from prison after nearly a month in detention in Libya, where she was accused of spying.
The Libyan government said it was freeing Taylor and three of her ICC colleagues as a "humanitarian" gesture. She was released from the mountain town of Zintan, and is expected in Tripoli before flying back to the Hague for a reunion with her husband and two-year-old daughter.
The deal to release her was agreed late on Sunday, with the ICC's South Korean president, Sang-Hyan Song, flying to Tripoli on Monday and driving into the mountains to collect his four-person team. Taylor sat down with Song to a lunch laid on by her Zintani captors of chicken, fish, rice, and a can of fizzy orange drink.
She was wearing a dark headscarf and a full-length black abeya. She seemed somewhat overwhelmed. Asked whether she was now free to go home, she told the Guardian tentatively: "I don't know. I think so."
Libyan officials have reiterated that Taylor committed a serious "crime" when she and her three colleagues visited Saif al-Islam on 7 June. The ICC has indicted Saif – Muammar Gaddafi's son, who was captured last year and is in prison in Zintan – with crimes against humanity.
The four ICC staff members came to Zintan last month on an official mission to speak to Saif about his defence rights. But speaking at a press conference in the town today, the local brigade commander, Alejmi al-Ateri, said Taylor had smuggled secret letters to Saif, compromising Libya's national security. He refused to say what the alleged letters contained. The ICC delegation had also taken in a hidden video camera, he claimed.
In a reference to Gaddafi loyalists, who are still active in parts of Libya, the commander said "suspicious entities" were plotting to spring Saif from custody. They also wanted to "hide his crimes and sins", he said, adding: "It's really regrettable this is done through members of the ICC."
Song on Monday refused to comment on whether his ICC team was guilty of wrongdoing. But he struck an abjectly contrite tone, saying that the international court, facing the most damaging crisis in its 10-year-history, "deeply regretted" the episode. He also said the ICC would mount its own internal investigation once its four staff members were back in the Hague.
"When the ICC has completed its investigation, the court will ensure anyone found guilty of any misconduct will be subjected to appropriate sanctions," he said.
Libyan officials said they would hold their own trial on 23 July to determine the ICC team's guilt or otherwise – but without the four defendants present.