How 'Compassionate' Libya Treats Its Prisoners,|
and How the British Treat Theirs
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.
— Mohamed Eljahmi is a Libyan-American activist.
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
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.