The Enigma Of The Al-Darrat Case
The Enigma of the Al-Darrat Case
03/05/2006 08:49 - (South Africa)
Hamid Skif (Algeria) Hamid Skif is an Algerian journalist, published author and poet. A victim of harassment for his writings and outspoken defence of freedom of expression in his home country, he emigrated in the 1990s and resettled in Hamburg, Germany, where he resides today. Skif wrote this article for the World Association of Newspapers.
Little is known about the conditions and date of the arrest of Libyan journalist Abdullah Ali Al-Sanussi Al-Darrat, and sources differ. Some say it was in 1973, others say it was in 1974 or 1975. If he is still alive, he would be the oldest prisoner in the world, but nobody knows where he is incarcerated.
The Al-Darrat case is indicative of the fate of any prisoner of conscience who has been forgotten by world opinion. In his own country, people are prohibited from talking about the case. Since the putsch that brought him to power in September 1969, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has thrown a lead weight over Libyan society, banning all forms of freedom of expression.
Although most observers believe the journalist died a long time ago, none of them know the circumstances of his death. The case is symbolic of the fate reserved in "Jamahiriya" the republic of the masses, which is a term coined by the dictator with his erratic ambitions for journalists daring to express an opinion that conflicts with that of the regime.
At this rate, the Al-Darrat enigma will remain for a long time yet. The people you talk to have no idea why he was abducted, or where he was or is being held. No court tried him and questions asked by the Libyan Human Rights League have come up against a wall of silence from the government.
The striking thing about the Al-Darrat mystery is the lack of mobilisation over the case. This forgotten man of the desert will, if he is still alive, have spent thirty-three years in jail without anyone, or almost anyone, wondering about his fate. No important visitors have dared to ask Colonel Gaddafi for news, and no large-scale mobilization has demanded his release.
The Al-Darrat case reminds me - on a different scale - of the case of Algerian journalist Abdelkader Hadj Benaamane, who was arrested on 28 February 1995, but whose arrest was not revealed until a month and a half later. In July of the same year, he was sentenced to three years in prison during a trial by the military court in Tamanrasset in the Algerian Sahara. A journalist at APS, the official Algerian press agency, he had committed the crime of informing his agency about the transfer of Ali Belhadj, second in command of the defunct Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), to a prison in Tamanrasset.
Having served two thirds of his sentence, he was given a conditional release on 2 April 1997. Emerging from this ordeal a broken man, Benaamane felt he had been abandoned by his colleagues, when he had only been doing his job. Certainly there were a few uncoordinated protests, but the matter seemed settled. The remoteness of the prison where he was held and the fact he was a little-known journalist worked against him. One wonders what would have happened if his case had received a minimum of interest.
In the case that concerns us, however, it seems that the establishment of more normal relations between Libya, the United States and the European Union will not shed any new light as long as these governments have more important interests than human rights in this region. This attitude, which is in stark contrast to their stated positions, merely increases the suspicion among Arabs that the West is only interested in human rights in this part of the world when its interests are threatened.
The idea of dedicating this year's World Press Freedom Day on May 3 to Abdullah Ali Al-Sanussi Al-Darrat, to demand his release or at the very least urge the Libyan government to provide verifiable information about his fate, seems to be the best way of shedding light on this tragedy.
Stepping back from the Al-Darrat affair, I believe it is vital to draw the attention of world public opinion to the state of press freedom and of journalists in Arab countries in general. With a few rare exceptions, press freedom there remains a hollow slogan and media professionals are sycophants to regimes hostile to reform in a fast-changing world. - WAN