Amid new releases, government critic allowed to leave

The Libyan authorities have allowed political reform activist Idriss Boufayed to travel to Switzerland to seek medical treatment for cancer. An outspoken critic of Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi and former secretary general of the National Union of Reform organisation, Idriss Boufayed was released from prison on 10 October on humanitarian grounds, but required treatment not available in Libya.

He left Libya on Thursday for Switzerland, where he had previously lived in exile. The news of his ability to travel comes days after the release of eight prisoners of conscience arrested and tried together with Idriss Boufayed.

Idriss Boufayed and 10 others were convicted on 10 June for “attempting to overthrow the political system” and “communication with enemy powers” and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 25 years by the State Security Court in unfair trial proceedings.

The defendants did not have the right to counsel of their own choosing, with the exception of Jamal el-Haji, who was able to appoint a private lawyer. They also did not have access to the appointed defence lawyers outside the court room.

The organization believes that the charges relate to the publication on news websites on 23 January 2007 of a communiqué by Idriss Boufayed, along with three other men, al-Mahdi Saleh Hmeed, Ahmed Youssef al-Obaidi and Bashir Qasem al-Hares, announcing that they were planning a peaceful demonstration to take place in Tripoli on 17 February 2007.

The demonstration commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of at least 12 people and the injuring of scores more during a demonstration in Benghazi. In February 2007, 14 men were arrested in connection with the planned demonstration.

Eight of the others arrested were released from prison on 7 December. Ahmed Youssef al-Obaidi, al-Mahdi Saleh Hmeed, al-Sadeq Saleh Hmeed, Farid Mohammed al-Zwai, Alaa al-Drissi, Bashir Qasem al-Hares, Ali Saleh Hmeed and al-Sadiq Qeshoot were not given official reasons for the decision.

It has been reported that the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GDF), headed by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, a son of Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, played a role in negotiating their release.  

Amnesty International, who condemned the arrests and convictions at the time, has welcomed the latest developments. The organization called for the release of all 11 men, regarding them as prisoners of conscience.

In welcoming the release of the eight prisoners of conscience on 7 December, Amnesty International stressed that these releases must be unconditional and the men should fully enjoy their civil and political rights.

Jamal el-Haji and Faraj Saleh Hmeed, also arrested at the same time and sentenced to 12 and 15 years, respectively, remain in prison.

“Amnesty International remains concerned by the continual detention of Jamal el-Haji and Faraj Saleh Hmeed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui from Amnesty International. “We call for their immediate and unconditional release since we consider them to be prisoners of conscience who have been sentenced solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly”.

“The organization remains seriously concerned about the fate of Abdelrahman Al Qateewy, whose whereabouts remain unknown since he was first arrested in connection with the same demonstration.”