(New York, October 10, 2008) - Libya freed Dr. Idris Boufayed from detention on October 8, almost 20 months after security agents arrested him for planning a peaceful demonstration, Human Rights Watch said today. Boufayed, who suffers from advanced lung cancer, was released from detention in a hospital and promised that he would be allowed to travel abroad for medical care.
Relatives said Boufayed was allowed to leave the Sabratha Medical Center, where he had been detained since being transferred there from prison earlier this year. He was freed without conditions and returned to Gheryan, his home town, according to Libya al-Mostakbal, an émigré website that has closely followed the case.
"We welcome Dr. Boufayed's release and ask the Libyan authorities to ensure he is allowed to get the medical care he needs," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Libya also needs to free the 10 other men who were arrested with him 20 months ago."
Security agents arrested Boufayed and 13 others, including his brother Jum`a, in Tripoli on February 15 and 16, 2007, days before they planned to hold a peaceful demonstration to commemorate the deaths of 11 people during a violent clash between protesters and police a year earlier.
On June 10, 2008, a Tripoli state security court sentenced Boufayed to 25 years in prison on charges of planning to overthrow the government and meeting with an official from a foreign government, apparently a US embassy official in Tripoli. Ten other detainees received sentences ranging from six to 15 years in prison. Libyan authorities released Boufayed's brother Jum`a in May without charge, and released another detainee, `Adil Humaid, in June. A medical student who was arrested with the group, `Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, has been "disappeared" for more than a year and a half.
Relatives who visited Boufayed in the hospital before his release said his lung cancer had not responded to medical treatment and that he felt the hospital was not equipped to treat his condition.
Boufayed, 50, has been a critic of the Libyan leader, Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi, and directed a small opposition group called the National Union for Reform during 16 years of exile in Switzerland. He returned to Libya in September 2006. Security agents detained him for 55 days in November and December 2006 after he wrote letters criticizing the government that were published on a Libyan opposition website.
In September 2008, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Libya and said she raised specific human rights concerns with al-Qadhafi. Other US officials said they have raised Boufayed's case with the Libyan government.