Libya: fears for life of 66-year-old prisoner of conscience with diabetes and artery disease

Amnesty International has expressed grave concern for the life of a 66-year-old man being held in Libya who is suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease and is being denied medical treatment.

Fathi el-Jahmi, an outspoken political commentator previously imprisoned for expressing his views, was arrested in March 2004 after he criticised Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi and called for political reform in media interviews.

Mr ElJahmi is now being held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location - believed to be an Internal Security Agency facility on the outskirts of Tripoli. People who have seen him have reported that he barely has the strength to speak and appeared emaciated. He also has severely swollen legs.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“No-one should be imprisoned just for peacefully expressing their opinion in the first place - and in this case it’s especially shocking that a desperately ill man is also apparently being allowed to die in jail.

“The Libyan authorities should unconditionally release Fathi el-Jahmi as soon as possible and meanwhile ensure that he gets the medical attention he desperately needs to alleviate his suffering.”

Mr El-Jahmi has spent much of his four years’ imprisonment in solitary confinement and has been allowed only sporadic visits by his family. Last year he reportedly received no visits at all. He is apparently not allowed to receive letters, books or newspapers.

In July 2006 the Libyan foreign ministry told Amnesty International that Mr El-Jahmi was being tried on charges of "exchanging information with employees of a foreign state causing harm to the interests of the country and providing them with information with the aim of their states attacking [Libya]" and "scheming with a foreign state in peacetime". They said that Mr El-Jahmi had access to a lawyer, but did not disclose where he was being tried.

Meanwhile, the last publicly available report on his health was published in March 2005 by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations. These had sent a doctor and prison health expert to Libya to conduct a medical assessment. According to their report, Mr El-Jahmi had been receiving only "sporadic and inadequate medical treatment", despite "suffering from several chronic ... conditions (diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease) that are independently life-threatening and difficult to control".

On 22 March 2005 Physicians for Human Rights received a response from Mr El-Jahmi's government-appointed doctors confirming the seriousness of his condition, but giving assurances that he was receiving "reasonable medical service".

Amnesty International believes that Mr El-Jahmi is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the non-violent exercise of his right to freedom of expression. The charges against him appear to relate to his contact with US diplomats before his arrest and to his outspoken interviews in March 2004 with satellite news channels, including Dubai-based Al Arabiya and US-based Al Hurra.

The Libyan authorities also detained Mr El-Jahmi simply for peacefully expressing his political views during 2002-2004.

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