Sentenced to Death from Thousands of Miles Away
On Tuesday, Muammar al-Qaddafi's son was sentenced to death in absentia. He's not the only one who's escaped a death sentence by not attending his own trial.
On Tuesday, a court in Tripoli sentenced to death nine members of former Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime who were convicted of war crimes during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings there. The United Nations human rights office has condemned the trial, which they said was not fair or transparent.
Eight of those sentenced to death are being held in prisons in Libya. But the ninth, Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the deposed Libyan dictator, will escape execution — for now at least.
He is currently being held in the city of Zintan by a former rebel group which refuses to release him and has said they do not plan to execute him. On Tuesday, despite his absence from the trial in Libya’s capital city, he was sentenced to death in absentia. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Qaddafi’s strange refuge from his death sentence got Foreign Policy thinking about other times political or military leaders have escaped or delayed their own executions by not showing up to the trial:
In Iraq: Fugitive then-Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and his son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan were sentenced to death in absentia in September 2012, for the murders of a lawyer and security official. Hashemi, who also has charges against him for overseeing death squads that targeted his political opponents, has reportedly lived under Turkish protection in the country’s capital of Ankara since he fled Iraq to avoid charges against him.
In Chad: Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré is an expert at avoiding standing trial. After he was overthrown by current Chadian president Idriss Déby during a 1990 coup, Habré fled to Senegal where he lived freely for many years. In 2008 he was sentenced to death in absentia by a Chadian court for planning to overthrow the Chadian government. In 2012, Senegal, under pressure from Belgium and the International Court of Justice, agreed to try him in a special tribunal for overseeing the deaths of Chadians in torture prisons. He was arrested in 2013 and his trial officially began in July 2015. But after being brought to court by force on the second day of his trial, his lawyers failed to show, and the trial has been postponed for another 45 days.
In Czechoslovakia: Multiple Nazis accused of war crimes have been sentenced to death in absentia, but one suspected war criminal, László Csatáry, reportedly built an elaborate second life in Canada in order to escape his fate. Charged with war crimes for his complicity in the Holocaust, he was sentenced to death in absentia in then-Czechoslovakia in 1948. Csatáry moved to Nova Scotia, lied about his Nazi past to obtain Canadian citizenship in 1955, and later worked as an art dealer in Montréal. When his identity was revealed in 1997, he left Canada, and was arrested in Budapest in 2012. Hungarian authorities and prosecutors accused him of shepherding thousands of Jews to their deaths and overseeing a Jewish internment camp in the city of Kosice, which was at the time a part of Hungary. He died in a Hungarian hospital in 2013 after the court suspended the charges due to their similarity to the earlier charges in Czechoslovakia.
In Italy: During the Verona trial of 1944, five Fascist leaders were sentenced to death for voting to remove Benito Mussolini from power, and were killed the day after the trial. A sixth was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Others who supported pushing Mussolini out of office fled Italy to avoid the charges. Among them were Dino Grandi, who fled to Portugal, and Giuseppe Bottai, who joined the French Foreign Legion. Both were later relieved of those charges by a court in Rome. Bottai edited a political journal before his death in Italy in 1959 and Grandi worked in Brazil before returning to Bologna, where he died in 1988.
In Turkey: In 1919, Mehmet Talaat Pasha was one of multiple Ottoman Turks accused of masterminding the Armenian genocide, and was sentenced to death in absentia by a military courts-martial. Talaat, who served as the Ottoman interior minister, oversaw the deportation of Armenians from modern-day Turkey. Although he escaped death by execution by remaining in Germany, Pasha did not enjoy an easy life in exile. In 1921, he was assassinated in Berlin by Soghomon Tehlirian, a survivor of the mass killings he allegedly organized.
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