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Libyan Writer Mohammed el-Jahmi
الكاتب الليبي محمد الجهمي

Mohammed el-Jahmi

Wednesday, 9 September, 2009

How 'Compassionate' Libya Treats Its Prisoners,
and How the British Treat Theirs

Mohamed Eljahmi

The celebrations for — and the British government’s complicity in the release of — Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi highlights not only the lack of seriousness with which the West pursues its fight against terror, but also an equally large moral failing. The British Foreign Office, and quite possibly the U.S. State Department, coordinated extensively with the Libyan government to effect Megrahi’s release, yet both London and Washington long professed their inability to win freedom for my brother, the Libyan dissident Fathi Eljahmi, who died in May after five years in Libyan prisons.

Fathi was first imprisoned in October 2002 after he called for political reform and for Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi to take responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and Libyan interference in Chad and West Africa. He was released on March 12, 2004, after the intercession of then-senator Joseph Biden, but rearrested two weeks later after he renewed his call for reform.

He was held in isolation, served food that was unfit for human consumption, forbidden family visits, and denied treatment for a heart condition, diabetes, and hypertension. After he fell into a coma, Libyan authorities transferred Fathi to a hospital in Jordan. As Jordanian doctor Ibrahim Jarad of the Arab Medical Centre in Amman told me via telephone, “Fathi’s heart stopped three times on the plane from Tripoli to Amman. He came without medical records and we didn’t know who he was.” Within two weeks, he was dead. Libyan officials refused to allow an autopsy.

Contrast this with Britain’s treatment of Megrahi. Scottish authorities allowed him visits from former South African president Nelson Mandela, Qaddafi’s sons, and a coterie of other Arab officials. British authorities granted visas to Megrahi’s wife and children so that they could be near him. Prison officials gave him excellent medical care. He was segregated from other prisoners who might do him harm, and he had a sitting area and kitchen, where he was served specially prepared halal food in accordance with Islamic law. He was also allowed to give interviews to Libya’s government-owned press, which described him as a “political hostage.”

Despite all this, Musa Kusa, Libya’s foreign minister and the chief architect of the Lockerbie bombing, continues to lecture the West about human rights. A few days ago he told the Times of London, “Where is the human rights, the compassion and mercy? The man is on the verge of death.” At no point did Western officials demand parity in the treatment of Megrahi and Eljahmi. How ironic it is that more compassion exists for a mass murderer than for a bold voice for reform.

— Mohamed Eljahmi is a Libyan-American activist.

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