Saturday, May 22, 2010

Libya: Still no justice for Fathi el-Jahmi, late Libyan government critic

Amnesty International has again called on the Libyan authorities to investigate the decline in health and eventual death of one of the country's most prominent government critics.

Prisoner of conscience Fathi el-Jahmi died on 21 May 2009 after being unlawfully detained for more than five years, with the precise cause of his death never revealed by the Libyan authorities, despite repeated requests from Amnesty International.

"Fathi el-Jahmi crossed the line in Libya by directly criticizing Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi - his detention and untimely death serve as a cautionary tale for those in Libya urging reform," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

"A year after his death, the authorities have not thoroughly investigated the circumstances leading to the deterioration of his heath and subsequent death, neither has there been accountability for his unlawful detention."

Amnesty International first adopted el-Jahmi as a prisoner of conscience in 2002 after he was arrested for calling for political reforms during a session of the Basic People's Congress [the equivalent of a local parliament] in Tripoli.

He was convicted and sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence in an unfair trial and was released in March 2004. Authorities arrested el-Jahmi only weeks later, after he repeated his call for democracy during media interviews.

Throughout his incarceration, Fathi el-Jahmi was held in solitary confinement, denied regular visits by his family and allowed only sporadic medical care, though he suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition.

Official information about el-Jahmi's whereabouts and legal status were sparse. In 2006, the government claimed he was put on trial on charges of â??exchanging information with employees of a foreign state, causing harm to the interests of the country and providing them with information with the aim of their states attacking the Great Jamahiriyaâ?? and â??scheming with a foreign state in peacetimeâ??.

In September 2006, a court alleged he was suffering from â??delusional speechâ?? and â??thought disorderâ?? and he was consigned to a psychiatric hospital.

However, medical experts from the independent human rights organization, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), who had access to Fathi el-Jahmi in March 2008, raised serious questions about the medical reasons used to confine him.

The medical examination also confirmed that el-Jahmi was suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and was in need of urgent medical care.

Amnesty International repeatedly brought its concerns regarding Fathi el-Jahmi's health to the attention of the Libyan authorities and urged that he be released immediately and unconditionally.

Instead, the Libyan authorities held him in Tripoli Medical Centre until he was transferred to Amman, Jordan on 5 May 2009 amid reports that his health had seriously deteriorated in the months preceding the transfer. According to the authorities, he had been released earlier that day on medical grounds.

In Jordan, he reportedly underwent gall-bladder surgery but did not regain consciousness and he died at the Arab Medical Centre in Amman. On 21 May 2009, his body was flown to Tripoli and then to Benghazi for burial.

"Fathi el-Jahmi's release on medical grounds and transfer to Jordan for treatment came too late, suggesting that the Libyan authorities only decided to release Fathi el-Jahmi when his condition became terminal."

Following Fathi el-Jahmi's death, Amnesty International wrote to Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi expressing fears that Fathi el-Jahmi's incarceration and reportedly sporadic and inadequate health treatment were among the main factors leading to the deterioration of his health and, possibly, his death. Amnesty International also stressed that Fathi el-Jahmi should have never been detained in the first place.

Nearly a year after his death, Amnesty International received a letter from the Libyan authorities in response that did not specify the exact cause of death, saying only that Fathi el-Jahmi suffered from â??diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseaseâ??. Amnesty International's request to receive a copy of the autopsy report was not granted.

"As we remember Fathi el-Jahmi's courage in peacefully advocating reform in an environment wHere such actions are considered criminal, we call on the Libyan authorities to disclose the full truth about his death. Fathi el-Jahmi's case also highlights the urgent need to amend Libyan law which carries severe penalties, including the death penalty and life imprisonment, for merely speaking out,â?? said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.

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