By: Natalie S. Maier
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan Rebel Commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar have received an apology from the UK government following “appalling treatment” during their detention in 2004.

Boudchar and her son. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Mr. Belhaj and Ms. Boudchar were taken to Tripoli where they were both tortured by Libyan jailers. Belhaj had been an opponent of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in multiple assassination attempts on Gaddafi. Belhaj and his wife were abducted in 2001 while trying to fly from Bangkok to London to seek asylum in the UK . Boudchar was five months pregnant at the time.

In the aftermath of the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the US and its allies sought to track jihadists groups more closely. This included British Intelligence agencies’ monitoring of Libyan dissidents who had been living under UK protection. Senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, was at the center of an operation attempting to convince Gaddafi and his henchmen to work with the West. Papers found by the Human Rights Watch, known as the Tripoli documents, show that Allen and his Libyan counterpart, Moussa Koussa, had agreed that counterterrorism experts from both party’s sides should meet and discuss their common enemies. Koussa allegedly wanted intelligence that would lead to the capture of LIFG leaders on the run, in addition to recognition for Libya.

In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gaddafi made a diplomatic move ultimately known as the “deal in the desert.” As consideration, the UK agreed to provide information on the whereabouts of the regime’s enemies.

On March 1, 2004, information from London to Tripoli tipped off Belhaj and his wife, who were in Malaysia at the time. Malaysian authorities, in communication with the Libyans, put the couple on a flight to Bangkok, where they were received and immediately detained. A day later, the couple was transported to Tripoli. Belhaj alleges that he was continuously tortured during a six-year period in prison. Boudchar was released only a few months after being detained, and shortly before giving birth.

On Thursday, May 10, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a public apology to Belhaj, Boudchar, and their son, with whom Boudchar was pregnant at the time of her detainment. All three family members were present at the reading of the apology. Belhaj told BBC news, “I hope that it is a new page in history, that we guarantee and strengthen human rights and this practice is not repeated.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Belhaj rendition: UK apology over Libyan dissident treatment – 10 May 2018

Evening Standard – Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj, tortured by Gaddafi regime, receives apology from Theresa May – as his wife Fatima Boudchar is given £500,000 payout – 10 May 2018

Middle East Eye – British government apologizes to Libyan dissident Belhaj over rendition – 10 May 2018 

BBC News – Abdul Hakim Belhaj: the documents trail that nailed  UK’s secret role in rendition – 10 May 2018 

 

Author: Natalie Maier