January 30, 2008
Fathi al-Jahmi is seriously ill and in need of urgent medical care. He should be released immediately and allowed to see an independent doctor.
Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

Fathi al-Jahmi, a prominent Libyan political prisoner, is seriously ill and in urgent need of independent medical care, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called for al-Jahmi’s immediate and unconditional release, and asked Libyan authorities to let him see an independent physician.

“Fathi al-Jahmi is seriously ill and in need of urgent medical care,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “He should be released immediately and allowed to see an independent doctor.”

Al-Jahmi, aged 66, has been in detention for nearly four years without trial. People who have seen him have said his skin is discolored, he has lost weight, and his legs are swollen. He is too weak to speak.

Human Rights Watch could not independently confirm the report of al-Jahmi’s health, but independent doctors who visited him in 2005 diagnosed his diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Repeated requests by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups to the Libyan government for information about al-Jahmi’s case have gone unanswered.

“Libya wants the world to think it’s changed, but Fathi al-Jahmi’s unlawful detention and systematic mistreatment are a disgrace for a country that wants acceptance by the world community,” Stork said.

Background

Internal security forces first arrested al-Jahmi, a former provincial governor, on October 19, 2002, after he criticized the government and Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi, calling for the abolition of al-Qadhafi’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.

On March 1, 2004, US Senator Joseph Biden met al-Qadhafi and called for al-Jahmi’s release. Nine days later, an appeals court gave al-Jahmi a suspended sentence of one year and ordered his release on March 12.

That same day, al-Jahmi gave an interview to US-funded al-Hurra television, in which he repeated his call for Libya’s democratization. He gave another interview to the station four days later, in which he called al-Qadhafi 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.”

Two weeks later, on March 26, security agents arrested al-Jahmi, his wife and their eldest son. The Internal Security Agency detained them in an undisclosed location for six months, without access to relatives or lawyers. The authorities released al-Jahmi’s son on September 23, 2004 and his wife on November 4.

The Internal Security Agency has held al-Jahmi in detention ever since. The head of the agency told Human Rights Watch in 2005 that al-Jahmi was being held in a special facility for his own protection and because he is “mentally disturbed.”

“I’m responsible for his health care, his detention, and I want to say this: if this man was not detained, because he provoked people, they could have attacked him in his home,” Col. Tohamy Khaled said. “Therefore, he is facing trial. … He’s in special detention because he’s mentally disturbed and we’re worried he will cause a problem for us.”

Human Rights Watch visited al-Jahmi in May 2005 in an Internal Security Agency special detention facility in Tripoli. He said then that he faced charges on three counts under articles 166 and 167 of the penal code: trying to overthrow the government; insulting al-Qadhafi; and contacting foreign authorities. The third charge, he said, resulted from conversations he had with a US diplomat in Tripoli.

Article 166 of the penal code imposes the death penalty on anyone who talks to or conspires with a foreign official to provoke or contribute to an attack against Libya. Article 167 orders up to life in prison for conspiring with a foreign official to harm Libya’s military, political or diplomatic position.

Al-Jahmi was brought to trial in late 2005, but the proceedings stopped abruptly without any government explanation or announcement of the charges against him. His court-appointed lawyer told Human Rights Watch in January 2006 that al-Jahmi may face the death penalty for supporting or calling for the establishment of “any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law.”

Al-Jahmi’s detention and maltreatment violate both Libyan and international law, Human Rights Watch said.

Article 31 of Libya’s 1969 Constitutional Proclamation states that individuals are innocent until proven guilty and provides them with a fair defense, as well as freedom from “mental or physical harm.” Article 2 of Libya’s Great Green Charter for Human Rights prohibits any punishment that “would violate the dignity and the integrity of a human being.” Both the proclamation and the charter carry constitutional weight.

Libya is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and the regional African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As such, it has multiple, binding legal obligations to ensure no one is arbitrarily detained or denied basic due process, and that those in detention are not exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment, but are treated “ with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” including access to necessary health care and medical treatment. As spelled out in the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, a state’s responsibility to those in their detention includes the provision that “medical care and treatment shall be provided whenever necessary.”