(New York) - Libya's release of two political prisoners today is one of a series of steps that indicates that the government is willing to change its policies, Human Rights Watch said. The organization urged the government to free others who remain in detention.
The two men, Jamal al-Haji and Faraj Humaid, spent two years in prison. In February 2007, the Libyan State Security Court had sentenced 12 men to prison terms, including 12 years for al-Haji and 15 years for Humaid, a year after they planned a peaceful demonstration to mark the anniversary of the death of protesters in a clash with the police.
"The release of Jamal al-Haji and Faraj Humaid is a particularly welcome step in light of the Libyan authorities' stated initiative of breaking with the past," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Libya will hopefully continue along the path of reforms it has begun."
Al-Haji, who has Libyan-Danish citizenship, was reportedly placed in solitary confinement in November 2008 after he refused to end a hunger strike in protest against his continued detention.
On October 10, 2008, the authorities released the main organizer of the protest, Idris Boufayed, who suffers from advanced lung cancer, on humanitarian grounds. He received his passport and exit visa and, on December 11, traveled to Switzerland for treatment.
Libya released the nine others sentenced with al-Haji and Humaid between June and December 2008. 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 preliminary reports indicate they released al-Qotaiwi, in mid-February 2009.
Security agents arrested the group in Tripoli on February 15 and 16, 2007, days before they planned to hold the peaceful demonstration in Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, the capital, 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 Idris 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.