HRW Calls for Libya to Release Ailing Political Prisoner

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – On March 29, Human Rights Watch called for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoner Fathi al-Jahmi.  Despite an announcement by the Gaddafi International Foundation that Jahmi was released on March 11, HRW stated that Jahmi remains in Libyan custody.

Jahmi’s brother said that the Gaddafi Foundation’s announcement that Libya released Jahmi to the care of his family was not accurate.  Jahmi’s family stated that while they have access to him, he remains in detention at the Tripoli Medical Center , where he receives medical care for diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.  HRW added that due to real or perceived governmental pressure, Jahmi and his family were not free to make independent decisions about his medical care.

In July 2007, Jahmi was transferred to the Tripoli Medical Center from a psychiatric hospital.    According to Dr. Allen, an advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, Jahmi was experiencing severe heart failure at the time of the transfer.  Allen added that Jahmi’s health has improved since then, significant and pressing health problems remain.

According to Allen, “There’s no doubt that negligent care contributed to the serious deterioration of al-Jahmi’s health during his early detention.”  HRW stated that it is likely that the Jahmi’s health deteriorated due to improper treatment and denial of medications during his detention in the psychiatric hospital.

Jahmi, a former provincial governor was first arrested and convicted in 2002, after he criticized the government, calling for the abolition of Gaddafi’s Green Book, free elections in Libya, a free press, and the release of political prisoners.  A court sentenced him to five years in prison.  After foreign intervention, Libya reduced Jahmi’s sentence to a one year suspended sentence and he was released on March 1, 2004.

Jahmi was arrested just two weeks after his release after he gave two interviews where he again called for free elections and free press.  In his March 5 interview with al-Hurra television, Jahmi called Gaddafi a dictator and said, “All that is left for him to do is hand us a prayer carpet and ask us to bow before his picture and worship him.”

In March 2004, Libya charged him with trying to overthrow the government, insulting Gaddafi and contacting foreign authorities.  For the past four years, Libya has imprisoned Jahmi without trial.

For more information, please see:
Human Rights Watch – Libya: Free Hospitalized Political Prisoner – 29 March 2008

Reuters – Libyan Dissident Released, Gaddafi Charity – 12 March 2008

AFP – Libyan Political Prisoner Released: Kadhafi Foundation – 11 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Prominent Dissident Freed After 4 Years in Jail for Criticizing Leader, Urging Democracy – 11 March 2008

Author: Impunity Watch Archive