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The Libyan government should exonerate and release 11 peaceful political activists convicted on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. A state security court in Tripoli on June 10 reportedly sentenced the men to 6 to 25 years in prison.

The men are part of a group of 14 arrested in February 2007 for planning a demonstration to commemorate the death of 11 people during a clash between protesters and police a year earlier. In May 2008, the authorities released one of the men, Jum`a Boufayed, and a second man, `Adil Humaid, was released on June 10. A third man, `Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, has been missing since his arrest.

“In Libya today, just planning to criticize the government can land you in jail for years,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should throw out these bogus convictions immediately.”

The trial of the remaining 11 men was conducted by the state security court, which was created in August 2007 to handle political cases. It is reportedly located inside Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, a facility run by Libya’s Internal Security Agency.

Information about the trial and verdict came from the Libyan émigré website al-Mostakbal, which has closely monitored the case and spoke with two people who observed the courtroom proceedings.

The men were reportedly convicted of planning to overthrow the government and meeting with an official from a foreign government, apparently a US embassy official in Tripoli. They were found innocent of arms possession.

In recent years, Libya has sought to foster better relations with the United States and European countries, in part by seeking to improve its human rights image.

“The Libyan government has been trying to patch up its notoriously poor human rights record,” said Whitson. “But no patch is big enough to cover the blatant violation of these men’s rights.”

One of the defendants, Jamal Ahmad al-Haji, is a writer and government critic. In an article he issued a few days before his arrest, he called for “freedom, democracy, a constitutional state, and law” in Libya.

Jamal al-Haji holds Danish citizenship, which the Libyan government has refused to recognize. The authorities have refused Danish government requests to visit al-Haji, in violation of Libya’s obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The main organizer of the planned demonstration, Idris Boufayed, who lived in Switzerland for 16 years, was sentenced to 25 years. He is suffering from advanced lung cancer.

“The Libyan authorities should throw out the political charges against all these men and make sure Idris Boufayed is free and able to get the medical care he needs,” Whitson said.

On May 28, al-Watan, a pro-government newspaper, reported that an official “medical committee” had consented to Boufayed’s release on medical grounds. The meaning of the decision remains unclear.

The Qadhafi Foundation run by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi, has announced that it is working on Idris Boufayed’s behalf, given his failing health.

The men convicted, released, or still missing are:

• Convicted:
1. Al-Mahdi Humaid (there are five Humaid brothers) – 15 years
2. Al-Sadiq Salih Humaid – 15 years
3. Faraj Humaid – 15 years
4. `Ali Humaid – 6 years, 6 months
5. Ahmad Yusif al-`Ubaidi – 15 years
6. `Ala' al-Dirsi – 6 years
7. Jamal al-Haji – 12 years
8. Dr. Idris Boufayed – 25 years
9. Farid al-Zuwi – 6 years
10. Bashir al-Haris – 6 years
11. Al-Sadiq Qashut – 7 years

• Released:
12. `Adil Humaid – released June 10, 2008
13. Jum`a Boufayed (brother of Dr. Idris Boufayed) – released May 27, 2008

• Missing:
14. `Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi

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