The Boston Globe
April 3, 2008
Not so free in Libya
THE LIBYAN government of Moammar Khadafy has been working toward normalized relations with the United States, a turnaround that stands to benefit both countries. Unfortunately, that progress is in danger of being derailed because of Khadafy's hesitation to free an ailing critic of the regime whom Libyan authorities had promised to release from incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.
The outspoken Fathi al-Jahmi, a former provincial governor, has been in custody for four years. His transgression? Calling for democracy and a free press, and for openly deriding Khadafy's cult of personality. The last time he was a free man, in March 2004, Jahmi said of Libya's supreme leader: "All that is left for him to do is hand us a prayer carpet and ask us to bow before his picture and worship him."
This kind of impertinence may be displeasing to the Libyan leader, but Jahmi has already paid too high a price for speaking his mind. He has been separated from his family, and has developed multiple health problems in custody. Doctors from Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch were recently allowed to visit with him and reported that although he needs medical care and medications, he is able to be treated on an outpatient basis.
The doctors' visit was facilitated by the Khadafy Foundation, which has been smoothing the way for enhanced commercial and educational exchanges with the United States under the direction of Khadafy's son. It should be a simple matter for the foundation to persuade the senior Khadafy that freeing Jahmi is not only the humane thing to do, but an indispensable gesture if Libya hopes to reap the full benefits of its previous renunciation of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. A little respect for human rights can take Libya a long way toward normalized relations with the United States.