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Friday, 25 March, 2005


International Human Rights Groups Examine Seriously ill
Libyan Political Prisoner And Call For His Immediate Release


Contact:
John Heffernan
202-728-5335 ext 304
617-413-6407 cell
jheffernan@phrusa.org

Barbara Ayotte
617-301-4210
617-549-0152 cell
bayotte@phrusa.org

Citing rapidly failing health and a need for immediate access to better medical care, today Physicians for Human Rights and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations (PHR/IFHHRO) called on the Libyan government to release prominent political prisoner, 63-year-old Fathi el-Jahmi, on humanitarian grounds. His isolated confinement and sporadic and inadequate medical treatment constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the groups said. Mr el-Jahmi has been held at an undisclosed location since his re-arrest in March 2004. In response to numerous reports of his ill health, PHR/IFHHRO sent a Dutch physician and prison health expert, Dr. Joost Den Otter, to evaluate Mr. el- Jahmi’s condition. The organizations have released a detailed medical report: Medical Assessment of Mr. Fathi el-Jahmi [pdf format]

“My evaluation shows that Mr. el-Jahmi is suffering from several chronic, independently life-threatening conditions-- diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease,” said Dr. Den Otter. “In combination, these diseases could be lethal unless treated immediately.” Medical records reviewed by Dr. Den Otter date only from the last three months and were incomplete or inaccurate, indicating that Mr. el-Jahmi has received only sporadic evaluations and treatment. This often haphazard care has placed Mr. el-Jahmi at a significantly increased danger of a critical or fatal cardiovascular incident and severe kidney failure, among others. “It is essential that he receive regular and continuous medical care,” the groups said.

Despite receiving a response today from Mr. el-Jahmi’s government-appointed physicians confirming the seriousness of his condition and relaying an intention to follow up on several specific medical recommendations, the groups insist that Mr. el-Jahmi should be released on medical and humanitarian grounds. He should be allowed to consult immediately with a physician of his own choosing in a location of his own choosing where he can be assured that his treatment will be in accordance with international standards.

The report describes how Mr. el-Jahmi’s physical appearance has drastically changed from that shown in photos published in various newspaper articles over the past two years. He now looks old and tired, wears a long, grey beard and walks hunched forward as if with the aid of a cane. When he visits the hospital, the staff no longer recognizes him. He is under the constant surveillance of Libyan security guards, who do not permit him to receive mail or to read books or newspapers.

The two groups noted that by allowing this visit from an international physician, the Libyan Government has shown some openness to monitoring of the country’s human rights conditions. Nonetheless the PHR/IFFHRO medical assessment found that the combination of Mr. el-Jahmi’s isolated confinement without charge or trial and the sporadic and inadequate medical treatment constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which Libya ratified in 1970, Mr. el-Jahmi has the right to a fair and expedient trial. On the contrary, while in his most recent detention, Libyan authorities have not charged or tried Mr. el-Jahmi for his alleged crimes; instead, they subject him to near weekly interrogations without an attorney during secret hearings.

After many years of opposing the current Libyan regime, Mr. el-Jahmi was arrested for delivering a speech at the Basic People’s Conference in Tripoli in October 2002 at which he called for democracy, national reconciliation, the release of all political prisoners, a free press and a free civil society. At the time, he was charged with “defaming the Leader of the Revolution.” On March 12, 2004, Libyan authorities released Mr. el-Jahmi, following United States Senator Joseph Biden’s meeting with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi during which he advocated on Mr. el-Jahmi’s behalf. Two weeks later and shortly after Mr. el-Jahmi called for democratic reforms in interviews with the Arabic news channels al-Hurrah and al-‘Arabiya, Libyan security officials forcibly removed him from his home, detaining him along with his wife and eldest son. Since late 2004, when Libyan authorities released his son in September and then his wife in November, Mr. el-Jahmi has been held in isolated confinement with minimal outside contact at an undisclosed location. Previous attempts by international human rights groups to visit Mr. el-Jahmi have been unsuccessful.

In early February 2005, Libyan authorities approved the PHR/IFHHRO visit. Among the conditions of the visit, PHR/IFHHRO insisted on and received time for a private interview with Mr. el-Jahmi, though Dr. Den Otter was required to travel with and report his findings to the patient’s government-appointed physicians. Dr. Den Otter’s primary assessment was based on standard methods of clinical evaluation, including review of available medical records, eliciting a medical history from Mr. el-Jahmi and a physical examination.

Dr. Den Otter’s assessment shows that Mr. el-Jahmi’s physicians are not doing enough to reduce his diabetes-related complications. In addition, the medical records available for review did not indicate adequate, routine monitoring of blood pressure or blood glucose levels that is required to effectively control his hypertension and diabetes respectively, nor was there any indication that his symptoms of headaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), vertigo, dizziness, weight loss or intermittent fevers were evaluated in any way. Such lapses in care should be considered negligence by any reasonable international standard and are likely to result in a further compromised health status. Monitoring of blood pressure and daily finger-stick blood sugars and adjustment of medications does not require special skill or technology.

The March 22, 2005 response from Mr. el-Jahmi’s government-appointed physicians to PHR confirmed the seriousness of his condition. The letter, signed by all three of his physicians, indicated that PHR/IFHHRO’s medical recommendations were being taken into consideration. The letter concludes by saying that Mr. el-Jahmi “is receiving reasonable medical service and adequate supply of medication, his medical treatment and his medical problems are going to be revised and further assessment and evaluation of his condition, and further adjustment of his treatment will be carried out pending the result of the investigations and medical assessment.”

PHR/IFHHRO is pleased to have received this response and to see that its recommendations are being reviewed and hopes that the release of Mr. el-Jahmi will be imminent.

Dr. Den Otter also had an opportunity to visit very briefly with the five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in May 2004 on charges of infecting over 400 children with HIV at Benghazi hospital. PHR has followed this case and protested these convictions and that of the Palestinian physician also charged, citing testimony from noted AIDS experts that the Government of Libya failed to provide safe health care working conditions. PHR/IFHHRO also urges the Libyan Government to release the Bulgarian and Palestinian health professionals immediately and unconditionally.

To view the report in its entirety, please visit www.phrusa.org and www.ifhhro.org.

Physicians for Human Rights
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mobilizes the health professions to advance the health and dignity of all people. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations
The International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations (IFHHRO) was established as a network of organizations with similar human right agendas, upon an initiative of the Johannes Wier Foundation (the Netherlands) and Physicians for Human Rights (USA) in 1989.


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