|Queens Journal : Alumnus Imprisoned In Libya|
FRIDAY, JANUARY 14, 2005 - ISSUE 23, VOLUME 132
Alumnus imprisoned in Libya
T O P S T O R Y - By Tamsyn Burgmann, Assistant News Editor
Alumnus Ali Sadegh Elhouni is imprisoned in Libya.Idris Ben-Tahir has never met Ali Sadegh Elhouni, a Queen's graduate imprisoned in Libya since 1998. But Ben-Tahir, chairman of the Ottawa-based Islamic Council of Academics and Professionals, feels strongly connected to the man, prompting him to actively lobby for Elhouni's release.
Ben-Tahir attended Queen's part-time from 1971 to 1974, and said his fond memories have made him a "loyal Queen's-man."
"I understand [Elhouni] sympathized with a group that was advocating democratic social change in the country," he said.
Elhouni and 82 others were sentenced to life in jail by the Libyan People's Court. Two death sentences were also handed down.
"Everyone who was incarcerated with the group was educated abroad—all professional people," Ben-Tahir said.
After learning about Elhouni's plight from a mutual friend living in Liverpool, England, Ben-Tahir contacted the University to verify the jailed man's identity. After six days of phone calls, it was confirmed that Elhouni graduated in 1993 with an MSc in Electrical Engineering, while studying as an International student. Ben-Tahir also contacted Kingston General Hospital and learned that Elhouni's wife gave birth to a baby girl, Essra, while they were living in Kingston.
Elhouni returned to Libya for work after his graduation, bringing his family with him.
Ben-Tahir's next step was contacting the SGPS in early December.
"When someone advocating for democracy is incarcerated, it becomes a human rights issue," said Christopher Canning, SGPS VP (external). "[Elhouni] studied in Canada and has a Canadian-born child ... our role was to initiate an awareness campaign of his case.
"Being a graduate student society, we felt it was in the good of our society to raise these issues about how professionals and intellectuals are being incarcerated for political dissent," he said.
Canning said he wrote letters about Elhouni's case to Prime Minister Paul Martin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Pettigrew and Minister Responsible for Canadians Abroad, Dan McTeague.
"In the initial letter I called for [Elhouni's] release," Canning said. "Ultimately that's what we'd like to see, and not just him, others who have been accused of political dissent to be released as well."
The SGPS issued a press release stating these intentions via the Canadian Press in December Canning said both the print and television media picked up the story, which brought attention to the cause just prior to Martin's trade mission to Libya, on Dec. 19-20.
Principal Karen Hitchcock and Peter Milliken, MP for Kingston and the Islands, also wrote letters to the Prime Minister. Larry Miller, Conservative MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, raised the issue of human rights in Libya during a parliamentary session on Dec. 14.
"We wanted to see the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs address this issue directly, look into who is incarcerated," Canning said. "It's troubling [Elhouni] was incarcerated for sympathizing with this peaceful group advocating for democratic change."
Although Ben-Tahir, with the aid of the SGPS, was successful in raising awareness through the Canadian media about Elhouni's imprisonment, Amnesty International Canada said they are concerned there has not been a change in the status of his case or the cases of others.
"There has been no effective resolution on these cases, in the sense that there has not been movement," said John Tackaberry, spokesperson for the organization. "We remain concerned about the human rights issues in Libya and those we raised in our [own] letter to the Prime Minister."
"If Canada wants to have good relations with Libya and open up their commercial relations, in the due course of commerce we should also look at the human rights record of the country," he said. "Its one of the most dismal humans rights records in the world."
The Libyan Canadian Committee for Civic Liberties and Human Rights also urged the Prime Minister to discuss human rights abuses with Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's president of 35 years, when he visited him in December of last year.
Khaled Elghul, chairperson of the group, said they are still waiting for details on any progress made during the visit.
"When [the officials] came back, they said they discussed the human rights issues and mentioned some names, but because of privacy laws they cannot mention [these] details or names to us," he said.
Elghul's group is currently trying to organize a meeting with Pettigrew to learn more. He said the government must follow up on these matters or risk being hypocritical.
"If Canada does not press on the human rights issues of Libya and Elhouni and the other prisoners of conscience, then they will lose the respect of the Libyan people," he said.
But Ben-Tahir is not waiting for word from the government before planning his next step. He has already contacted the Canadian Ambassador to Libya, David Viveash, requesting a formal method of reaching Gadhafi, such as a fax number or registered mailing address.
"My goal is to get [Elhouni] out of incarceration," Ben-Tahir said. "I would like to directly address the great leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and beseech him to entreat Canada by releasing [Elhouni] as a good will gesture for the great Muslim festival of Eid al Adha [Jan. 21], the feast of the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham," he said.