December 12, 2009

IX. The State Security Court- A New People’s Court?

Libya established the People’s Court in 1988 to try political and security crimes against the state. It included an appeals court and a prosecution service, the Popular Prosecution Office. Many cases involved charges of illegal political activities that should have been protected under the rights to free association or speech, in particular, alleged violations of Law 71, which bans any group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of the 1969 revolution that brought al-Gaddafi to power. The People’s Court was widely criticized for politically-motivated trials that did not provide for the rights of defense or appeal and for accepting confessions extracted under torture.[172] 

Human Rights Watch and other groups welcomed the abolition of the People’s Court in 2005[173] but stressed that those convicted for the peaceful expression of political views should be immediately released and compensated for their time in prison. Human Rights Watch has urged that all those convicted by the People’s Court be given new trials in Libya’s regular criminal courts, with full transparency and due process guarantees.  The Chief Justice of the Libyan Supreme Court, Dr. Abdulrahman Abu Tuta, told Human Rights Watch that the People’s Court was an exceptional court and that after its abolition all the cases were transferred to the normal courts.[174]  The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concern that this has not occurred, stating in its Concluding Observations to Libya’s periodic report in November 2007 that “the convictions and sentences handed down by the People’s Court should be reviewed by the State party’s judicial authority in the light of the guarantees contained in article 14 of the Covenant.”[175]

The Higher Judicial Council, which has the power to review Supreme Court decisions and commute death sentences, created the State Security court on August 19, 2007 by decision 27 to address “crimes related to security.”[176] It was established in accordance with Law number 6 and decision No. 3 of the Higher Judicial Council on the creation of special courts. The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concern about the new court, saying it is unclear about “the difference between the State Security Court and the former People’s Court.”[177]

Libyan lawyers told Human Rights Watch that even though the People’s Court had been abolished in 2005, its laws are still in force and the new State Security Court is using the same procedures as the People’s Court.[178] Many of the State Security Court judges were formerly judges in the People’s Court. The decisions of the State Security Court are not publicly available to the defendants, their families or, frequently, to their lawyers. Former defendants before this court told Human Rights Watch that no appeal was available to them.  Internal Security prevents lawyers from accompanying their clients during interrogations and the lawyers often are unable to get access to the case files necessary to prepare their defense.  The State Security court will try cases of alleged violations of Law 71 which bans any group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of the 1969 revolution that brought al-Gaddafi to power.

As party to the ICCPR, Libya is obliged under Article 14 to provide for the right to fair trial. This includes ensuring that the rights of defense are fully respected to ensure equality with the prosecution and that every defendant is granted the right to appeal the decision. The court must also ensure that confessions obtained under torture are not accepted as evidence in the courtroom.  Human Rights Watch opposes the creation of special courts to try national security crimes. Such courts typically lack respect for the rights of defendants. Trials should be conducted before the normal criminal courts with all the procedural guarantees in international law.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed five prisoners tried and convicted by the State Security Court. The following are examples of cases decided by the State Security court which reveal a number of procedural irregularities that do not comply with international due process standards. Human Rights Watch calls upon the Libyan authorities to quash the sentences of or retry, with due process guarantees, all prisoners sentenced after unfair trials.

Abdelhakim Al-Khoweildy

While on a research mission to Libya in April 2009, Human Rights Watch interviewed former CIA secret detainee Abdelhakim Al-Khoweildy (also known as Abdallah al-Sadeq). Al-Khoweildy is one of the leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which for years sought to overthrow Gaddafi’s rule but which recently renounced violence in August 2009 and negotiated the release of hundreds of its members from Abu Salim prison over the past years. Al-Khoweildy told Human Rights Watch that the State Security Court had sentenced himto death in 2008. Malaysian security officials had arrested him on March 3, 2004 and handed him over to the CIA which he says interrogated and tortured him in Thailand.[179] The CIA rendered Abdelhakim Al-Khoweildy to Libya on March 9, 2004.[180]  He told Human Rights Watch:  

After two years of interrogation by External Security, I was brought before the court. The court was in the new building, State Security. There were 13 charges against me for my activities in Libya. I was taken to court, they read out the charges to me, then took me back to prison. Six months later they informed me of the verdict. They appointed a lawyer from the People’s Bureau (muhamat shaabiya) but I never saw his face. There were seven others in the same case, case No. 1. The fact that we actually had a trial is positive, but the one negative thing I would like to point out is that I was unable to meet a lawyer.[181]

Abdelhakim Al-Khoweildy remains imprisoned in Abu Salim prison.

Mohamed Ahmed Al-Shoro’eyya

On August 28, 2004, the CIA rendered Mohamed al-Shoro’eyya(also known as Hassan Rabi’i)  to Libya after approximately 17 months in CIA custody. The State Security Court sentenced al-Shoro’eyya to life imprisonment for membership in an illegal organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, on June 16, 2006.  He spoke to Human Rights Watch at Abu Salim prison in the presence of a guard who refused to leave, and said:

I was interrogated, then brought before the State Security court. I was sentenced to life imprisonment on 17 July 2006. I was assigned a state lawyer but I did not have the opportunity to sit down with him and talk to him. They charged me with membership in an illegal organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. It was case # 120.[182]

Case of Idris Boufayed, Jamal el Haji and 12 Others

In February 2007 Libyan security agents arrested 14 organizers of a planned peaceful demonstration intended to commemorate the anniversary of a violent crackdown on demonstrators in Benghazi. Security forces detained them incommunicado in Ain Zara and Al-Jdaida prisons until 24 June 2007 when twelve of the group came before a court to face charges of "attempting to overthrow the political system" and "communication with enemy powers.” Their case was transferred to the newly created State Security Court on November 6, 2007.  The defendants had not been able to see their lawyers outside the courtroom[183] and this was one of the first requests they made to the judge. The judge agreed to grant their request ordering Libyan security to allow them to meet with the lawyers.[184] On June 10, 2008 the State Security Court sentenced the twelve men to prison terms of between six and 25 years.

Security forces had also arrested Jum'a Boufayed, the brother of Idris, and Abderrahman al-Qotaiwi along with the others, but they did not appear in court, prompting fears that they had been "disappeared." However, in May 2008 the authorities released Jum'a Boufayed without charge, and they released al-Qotaiwi, in mid-February 2009. The main organizer of the planned demonstration, Idris Boufayed, received a 25-year sentence, but was released from detention on medical grounds in October 2008 due to his advanced lung cancer.  He travelled to Switzerland on 11 December 2008 for treatment.  Libya released nine of the prisoners between June and December 2008 and the last two in March 2009.

The court had sentenced Jamal al-Haji, a writer who holds Danish citizenship, to 12 years of imprisonment. Libyan authorities rebuffed Danish government requests to visit him. Prison authorities placed Al-Haji in solitary confinement in November 2008 after he refused to end a hunger strike in protest against his continued detention.[185] The authorities eventually released him on March 10, 2009.

Case of Shukri Sahil

Internal Security officers arrested Shukri Sahil, whose case is described above in Section VII, in May 2004 for attempting to set up a human rights organization and detained him in Abu Salim prison. In January 2006 the Court of Appeals in Tripoli acquitted him. Sahil was released on February 28, 2006. After the public prosecutor appealed this decision, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial. The case was transferred to the State Security Court following its creation in August 2007.  On June 6, 2008, the Prosecutor of the State Security Court issued a subpoena ordering Shukri Sahil to appear before the court on June 17. Sahil said he decided to leave Libya for Turkey on June 16, 2008 because he knew he would not get a fair trial before this court. On November 18, 2008 the State Security court sentenced him to death in absentia. Sahil told Human Rights Watch: “I was able to appoint a private lawyer who represented me in court, but after the death penalty sentence he stopped taking my calls. My family and friends were unable to obtain the decision from the court or from the lawyer.” [186]  Shukri Sahil is currently in Europe.

 

[172] See Human Rights Watch, Libya:  Words to Deeds, Volume 18, No.1(E), (New York: Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2006), http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2006/01/24/libya-words-deeds-0, Chapter V.

[173] “Reforms Welcome, But Concerns Remain,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 23, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/05/22/libya-reforms-welcome-concerns-remain;

“Libya: Abolition of People’s Court is an Important Step,” Amnesty International public statement, AI Index: MDE 19/001/2005, January 13, 2005, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE19/001/2005/en/e4b98fc8-d532-11dd-8a23-d58a49c0d652/mde190012005en.pdf (accessed Sept. 30, 2009) .

[174]  Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Abdulrahman Abu Tuta, Chief Justice of the Libyan Supreme Court, Tripoli, April 21, 2009.

[175]UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 40 of the Covenant : International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights : concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee : Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 15 November 2007, CCPR/C/LBY/CO/4,  http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/474aa9ea2.html (accessed 30 September 2009).

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice, Tripoli, April 26, 2009.

[177]UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 40 of the Covenant : International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights : concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee : Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 15 November 2007, CCPR/C/LBY/CO/4,  http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/474aa9ea2.html (accessed 30 September 2009).

[178] Human Rights Watch group interview with lawyers, Tripoli Bar Association, Tripoli, April 22, 2009.

[179] His claims are consistent with what is known about the CIA's treatment of detainees, see Human Rights Watch, Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention, February 26, 2007, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/02/26/ghost-prisoner-0 (accessed November 7, 2009) and the Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General, Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 - October 2003), May 7, 2004 https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/Executive%20Summary_OIG%20Report.pdf (accessed November 7, 2009).

[180] The CIA rendered an unknown number of detainees to countries such as Libya, Jordan, Egypt and Syria in the years following the 9/11 attacks. See Human Rights Watch, Double Jeopardy, April 7, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/04/07/double-jeopardy (accessed November 7, 2009).

[181]  Human Rights Watch interview with Abdelhakim Al Khoweildy, Abu Salim Prison, Tripoli, April 27, 2009.

[182] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Ahmed Al-Shoro’eyya, Abu Salim Prison, Tripoli, April 27, 2009.

[183] Human Rights Watch interview with Jamal el Haji, Tripoli, April 29, 2009.

[184] Human Rights Watch interview with Idris Boufayed, Geneva, April 6, 2009.

[185] Human Rights Watch interview with Jamal el Haji, Tripoli, April 29, 2009.

[186] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Shukri Sahil, June 25, 2009.