NEW YORK - August 17 - The Libyan government should release journalist and Internet writer `Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri and drop the charges against him or grant him a prompt and fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today. Libya’s internal security force has detained al-Mansuri since last January in an apparent effort to silence a writer with critical views.
The government arrested al-Mansuri, 52, on January 12, 2005, in his hometown of Tobruk. Over the previous year he had written some 50 articles and commentaries critical of Libyan society and government for a U.K.-based website, www.akhbar-libya.com. The website reported last week that he had fallen from his prison bed and broken his hip.
“Internet use has recently exploded in Libya, in the absence of a free domestic media,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “Internet sites based outside of Libya provide an important forum for political debate, so al-Mansuri’s arrest is a setback for Internet freedom and the important debate on Libyan reform.”
The government claims it arrested al-Mansuri for illegal possession of a handgun. But he was apparently detained before the handgun was found, by agents of the Internal Security Agency, which normally deals with issues of national security. The authorities are holding him in Abu Selim prison, run by the agency. For at least the first four months of his detention, the authorities held him in incommunicado detention, without access to a lawyer or his family.
Human Rights Watch visited al-Mansuri on May 5, 2005, in Abu Selim prison, during the organization’s first-ever trip to the country. He said then that the Internal Security Agency agents who arrested him had a warrant to search his home, and that they had confiscated his computer, papers, floppy and compact discs.
At the internal security headquarters in Tobruk, they questioned him about articles he had written, he said. They got another warrant to search his home the next day, and found an old pistol that had belonged to his father and 25 bullets. Al-Mansuri claimed that he had found the bullets on the beach while fishing. As of May 2005, he was unaware of any formal charges against him, and Libyan authorities have not responded to a subsequent Human Rights Watch request for information about his case.
“The authorities apparently arrested `Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri because he was exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Stork. “The government is not only violating international human rights law, but also domestic Libyan legislation when its internal security agents hold a person for months in incommunicado detention.”
On January 14, the authorities transported al-Mansuri to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, to the internal security’s Department of Terrorism and Subversion. Most of the interrogation, al-Mansuri said, was about his articles. Al-Mansuri said he received clothes from his brother approximately three weeks later but he never met his brother or any other family members. Around April 14, he told Human Rights Watch, the authorities transferred him to the internal security office in Tripoli’s Fashlum neighborhood, where security officials interrogated him again, both day and night. During his entire time in detention, he said, he was not allowed to see a lawyer.
Col. Tuhami Khaled, head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency, told Human Rights Watch that he was responsible for al-Mansuri’s arrest. “This man was not arrested for an article or the Internet or the radio, he can work for 20 years,” Col. Khaled said. “He was arrested because he had a gun without a license.” Internal security was holding al-Mansuri instead of the police, he said, because a weapon is “a job for internal security.”
Last week, www.akhbar-libya.com reported that al-Mansuri had broken his pelvis in a fall from his top bunk in prison, and that he is not receiving adequate medical care. Human Rights Watch wrote to Libya’s Secretary of Public Security (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the Secretary for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) on August 9 seeking information about al-Mansuri’s legal case and his health. As of this writing, the government had not responded.
“We are extremely disturbed to learn of al-Mansuri’s injury, and we urge the government to give him the medical care he needs,” Stork said.
According to al-Mansuri and an editor at www.akhbar-libya.com, he had written approximately 50 articles for the website in 2004 and early 2005. “I’m studying Libyan people and life from all sides,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Why a Libyan has a beard, why they are maybe scared from someone and why it’s not time for democracy in Libya.” He added, “What we want for Libya is that it becomes a better place, even through writing.”
Al-Mansuri’s last article before his arrest, “Will the Key-Holder Come Soon to That Hall in Sirte?,” posted on January 10, was a subtle critique of a debate between two government officials, a reformer and a hardliner, expressing hope, but doubt that Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, would support the former. The English and Arabic versions of the article can be read here.