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Twelve face possible death sentences, two "disappeared", over planned demonstration; government "still imprisons those who express alternative political views", says Human Rights Watch

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 13 August 2007 Human Rights Watch press release:

Libya: men face possible death for planning peaceful demonstration
Two others 'Disappeared' for nearly six months

(New York, 14 August 2007) - The Libyan government should drop charges against 12 men, one of them a Danish citizen, on trial for planning to hold a peaceful political demonstration in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, Human Rights Watch said today. Two other men have "disappeared" since their arrest in connection with the case nearly six months ago.

"For all its promises of better behaviour and improved ties with the world, Libya still imprisons those who express alternative political views, and it has 'disappeared' others," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "Twelve men are potentially facing death sentences, and two are missing in custody, their whereabouts unknown."

The two "disappeared" men are 'Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, a fourth-year medical student who, together with the 12 men on trial, was reportedly organizing the demonstration, and Jum'a Boufayed, brother of the demonstration's main organizer, Dr. Idris Boufayed. Neither man has been seen since their arrests in mid-February, nor have the Libyan authorities provided information on their whereabouts.

Jum'a Boufayed was apparently not one of the demonstration planners. Security agents arrested him a few hours after he gave an interview to a Libyan website based abroad, http://www.libya-almostakbal.net, about his brother Idris' arrest.

Security agents arrested the demonstration organizers on 15 and 16 February 2007. They had announced plans to hold a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli on 17 February to commemorate the first anniversary of a violent clash between demonstrators and police in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.

On 17 February 2006, demonstrators attacked the Italian consulate in Benghazi in response to statements by an Italian government minister defending the controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that had appeared in Danish and other European newspapers. The police used force to disperse the crowd, killing at least 11.

The 12 men are on trial for planning to overthrow the government, possession of arms, and meeting with an official from a foreign government.

Three open court sessions have taken place with family members in attendance. The fourth session on 4 August was postponed. The defendants have denied the first two charges, but admit that some of them met an official from the US embassy to inform him of their plans.

Despite Libyan pledges to abolish the death penalty, some or all of the defendants could face execution. Article 206 of the Libyan penal code imposes the death penalty on those who call "for the establishment of any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law," and on those who belong to or support such an organization.

Article 166 imposes the death penalty on anyone who talks to or conspires with a foreign official to provoke or contribute to an attack against Libya.

Article 167 imposes up to life in prison for conspiring with a foreign official to harm Libya's military, political or diplomatic position.

It is not clear whether 'Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, apparently one of the organizers, faces the same charges, even though he has never been produced in court. The charges against Dr. Boufayed's brother Jum'a are also unclear.

To Human Rights Watch's knowledge, none of the 14 men have called for or advocated violence. The demonstration's main organizer, Dr. Idris Boufayed, 50, is an outspoken critic of Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi and runs a small exile group called the National Union for Reform. Security agents detained him for 55 days on a previous occasion (please see: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/12/04/libya14735.htm ) in November-December 2006, after he wrote critical letters published on a Libyan opposition website (please see:********* http://www.libyaalwafa.com/idrees_abufyed/public_announcement_112106.htm ).

After 16 years in exile in Switzerland, Boufayed had returned to Libya for a visit in September 2006. In recent years, al-Qadhafi and top government officials have publicly promised that government critics could safely return.

Another of the defendants, Jamal Ahmad Haji, is a recognized writer and government critic. In an article he wrote a few days before his arrest, he called for "freedom, democracy, a constitutional state, and law" (please see: http://libya-almostakbal.net/MinbarAlkottab/January2007/jamalhaggi200107.html ).

Jamal al-Haji holds Danish citizenship, which the Libyan government has refused to recognize. The authorities have refused Danish government requests to visit al-Haji, although such visits are allowed under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

(. . . )

The arrested men are: Al-Mahdi Humaid, Al-Sadiq Salih Humaid, Faraj Humaid, 'Adil Humaid, 'Ali Humaid (five brothers), Ahmad Yusif al-'Ubaidi, 'Ala' al-Dirsi, Jamal al-Haji, Dr. Idris Boufayed, Farid al-Zuwi, Bashir al-Haris, Al-Sadiq Qashut, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, Jum'a Boufayed (brother of Dr. Idris Boufayed).

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