By Oliver Holmes
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A Libyan diplomat who served as ambassador to France for Muammar Gaddafi died from torture within a day of being detained by a militia from Zintan, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday.
Zintan is the town where the late Libyan ruler's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, is being held, and the former diplomat's death has reinforced concerns for the son's safety.
A preliminary autopsy report said Omar Brebesh, who was detained on January 19 in the capital Tripoli and whose body appeared in hospital the next day 100 km (60 miles) southwest in Zintan, had multiple injuries and fractured ribs.
The report is the latest in a series of allegations of torture at the hands of Libya's myriad armed militias who fought to topple Gaddafi and now run prisons around the country.
Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) says Saif al-Islam should be tried at home and would be given a fair hearing. The International Criminal Court has reserved the right to insist that he be sent to The Hague.
"Human Rights Watch read a report by the judicial police in Tripoli, which said that Brebesh had died from torture and that an unnamed suspect had confessed to killing him," the statement said, adding that photos of Brebesh's body show welts, cuts, and the apparent removal of toenails.
The militia accused of torturing Brebesh, al-Shohada Ashura, was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
Brebesh, 62, served in the Libyan embassy to France from 2004 to 2008, first as cultural attache, and then as acting ambassador for the last nine months of his tour.
The diplomat returned to Libya to work as a lawyer at the ministry of Foreign Affairs under Gaddafi but then continued working for the post-Gaddafi NTC government after the civil war.
Brebesh's son Ziad, told Human Right Watch that his father voluntarily submitted to an investigation by the Zintan Al-Shohada Ashura militia at their base in the Tripoli neighborhood of Crimea. The next day the family heard that Brebesh's body had appeared at a hospital in Zintan.
"These abusive militias will keep torturing people until they are held to account. Libya's leaders should show the political will to prosecute people who commit serious crimes, regardless of their role in the uprising," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The statement welcomed reports that a Zintan prosecutor has opened an investigation into Brebesh's death.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Justice held a ceremony to mark the handover of a prison in the capital from a Tripoli-based militia to the government. It was the seventh prison to be taken back by the government, which promises that the country's prisons, full of men who fought for Gaddafi, will gradually be transferred from militia control over the next few months.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Libya currently has about 8,500 detainees in roughly 60 facilities, most of them run by militias with informal relationships to the state.
On January 26, humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had stopped its work in detention centers in the city of Misrata because its medical staff were being asked to patch up detainees mid-way through torture sessions so they could go back for more abuse.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)