The List : Political Prisoners to Watch|
Posted September 2006
Some political prisoners are cause célèbres; others are little-known figures. But each of the detainees in this week’s List reflects their nations’ stalled progress on human rights. The fate of these individuals will reveal much about whether their countries are committed to the rule of law—or simply paying lip service to reform.
Who: Democracy activist, Libya
Detained: March 26, 2004, a day after announcing on U.S.-backed Al-Hurra television that he considered Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi a war criminal, rather than the legitimate leader of Libya. His wife and son were arrested and later released.
Status: Al-Jahmi, a former engineer, has been in and out of Libyan jails for years. In 2004, he was released after U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware met with Qaddafi and called for his release. President Bush hailed the move as a significant step in Libya’s rapprochement with the West. Several weeks later, al-Jahmi was again arrested for slandering the country’s leader. Human rights groups have warned recently that al-Jahmi now sits on death row for his comments, as well as for possibly meeting with a U.S. diplomat.
Why his case matters: Al-Jahmi is the most prominent political prisoner in Libya. His case is a black eye for a country trying desperately to improve its public image. Even the reformist son of the current leader, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, has accused al-Jahmi of “conspiring with and transferring information to foreign countries and making agreements with foreign elements.” Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups don’t see it that way. “Libya has renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in its efforts to rejoin the international community,” the organization’s Middle East director, Sarah Lynn Whitson, said recently. “Now it should take another step and let peaceful critics speak their minds.”