Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed

Approximately 65 political prisoners, including five prisoners of conscience detained since 1973, were released. Hundreds of others reportedly remained in prison. Families of dozens of prisoners were informed by the authorities that their relatives had died in prison, but were not told the date or cause of death. Several cases of "disappearance" were still not clarified. Two possible prisoners of conscience were sentenced to death. Reports of torture continued to be received; no investigations were known to have been carried out. Legislation remained in force criminalizing non-violent political activities and providing for unfair trials.


After the announced release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi declared on 1 September in his annual speech for the anniversary of the 1969 Revolution that "the existing Libyan prisons will be empty" with the exception of "a group of heretics who are believed to have links with what is known as al-Qa'ida and the Taleban". He stated that these would be treated in the same way the USA was treating people detained in Guantánamo Bay: "America said these people do not have the right to defend themselves, we will never provide them with lawyers, nor will their human rights be respected".

A climate of fear continued to prevail where victims of human rights violations or their relatives, in or outside the country, risk measures of retaliation when they communicate information to human rights organizations.

Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience

Some 65 political prisoners were released. Among them were five prisoners of conscience – Muhammad 'Ali al-Akrami, al-'Ajili Muhammad Salah 'Abd al-Rahman al-Azhari, Muhammad 'Ali al-Kajiji, Salih 'Omar al-Qasbi and Muhammad al-Sadiq al-Tarhuni – who had been imprisoned for almost three decades for their peaceful involvement with the prohibited Islamic Liberation Party, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami.

Despite the authorities' claim that there were no more political prisoners in the country, it was reported that hundreds remained in prison.

  • Ahmad 'Abd al-Qadir al-Thulthi, an engineer arrested in April 1986, was believed to be still in detention despite his acquittal by a court in 1987 because of lack of evidence against him. He was reportedly accused of sabotage and membership of an illegal political organization.
Unfair trials

Unfair trials, particularly before People's Courts established in 1988, continued to be reported. In a statement commenting on Amnesty International Report 2002, the authorities reiterated that the People's Court is an "independent body" which "maintains all legal safeguards with regard to levels of litigation and the rights of the defence". Despite apparent positive developments in the case of the "HIV trial", concerns regarding the unfair administration of justice remained unchanged.
  • In February a People's Court in Tripoli dropped charges of conspiracy against the state in the case of one Palestinian and six Bulgarian health professionals who had been on trial since February 2000, accused of deliberately infecting nearly 400 children in hospital with the HIV virus. It referred the case back to state prosecutors. In June the prosecution pressed similar charges to those which had formed the basis of the original trial, but dropped the charge of conspiracy against the state. In August the Arraignment Chamber ordered a referral of the accused before a criminal court. According to reports, security officers who interrogated and allegedly tortured the accused following their arrest in 1999 were also referred to the criminal court.
Lockerbie appeal

In March a Scottish court of appeal, established in the Netherlands where the original trial took place, upheld the life imprisonment sentence against Libyan national 'Abdel Basit al-Megrahi. He had been convicted in 2001 for involvement in the bombing of a Pan Am flight which exploded over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland, United Kingdom, in 1988, killing 270 people. In September his lawyers reportedly lodged an application for a hearing before the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that 'Abdel Basit al-Megrahi had not received a
fair trial.

Death penalty

Legislation remained in force that provides for the death penalty for activities which solely amount to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association. Death sentences continued to be imposed. No executions were reported. Since 1988, the authorities have continued to state their intention to work towards the abolition of the death penalty but there was no concrete move on this issue.
  • On 16 February, two possible prisoners of conscience, Abdullah Ahmed Izzedin and Salem Abu Hanak, were sentenced to death after an unfair trial before a People's Court in Tripoli. Scores of others in the same trial received sentences ranging from 10 years' to life imprisonment. They were among 152 professionals and students arrested in 1998 on suspicion of supporting or sympathizing with the banned Libyan Islamic Group, al-Jama'a al-Islamiya al-Libiya, which was not known to have used or advocated violence. No investigation into allegations of torture during detention raised by some of the defendants was known to have been carried out. Both the defendants and the prosecution lodged appeals against the verdict.
Torture and ill-treatment

Torture remained common in detention centres. According to AI's information, officials failed to take action to investigate allegations of torture or provide redress for the victims. Corporal punishments provided by law remained in force and were reportedly applied.
  • On 5 September Muhammad Mas'ud Zubaida went to the office of the Revolutionary Committee in Beni Walid to inquire if his son 'Abdullah Muhammad Mas'ud, detained since 1994, was to be included in the latest round of releases. Muhammad Mas'ud Zubaida was reportedly detained and died shortly after his release the following day. He had allegedly been tortured and ill-treated in detention.
  • According to Libyan media reports, four men convicted of robbery had their right hand and left leg amputated on 3 July, after the punishment was endorsed by the Supreme Court.
Deaths in custody

Allegations of numerous deaths in custody were not investigated. The authorities notified dozens of families that their relatives had died in custody, but apparently refused to provide any details of the date or cause of death. Some families were told that the body of their relative could not be returned because the prisoner had died years earlier. This led to speculation that the prisoners may have been among scores of prisoners allegedly killed unlawfully by the security forces in July 1996 in Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli.


The authorities came under increased pressure to clarify several cases of "disappearance", but had failed to open thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the cases by the end of the year.
  • In his annual speech on 1 September Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi gave an official acknowledgement that Imam Musa al-Sadr, a prominent Iranian-born Shi'a cleric living in Lebanon, "disappeared in Libya" during a visit in 1978.
  • The authorities failed to disclose information about Mansur Kikhiya, former Foreign Affairs Minister and prominent human rights defender, who was last seen in Cairo, Egypt, in December 1993, or about Jaballah Matar and Izzat Youssef al-Maqrif, both prominent Libyan opposition activists who "disappeared" in Cairo in March 1990.
Correspondence with the authorities

In a statement of responses to Amnesty International Report 2002, the General People's Committee for Justice and Public Security denied any basis to the concerns raised by AI. By the end of the year, the organization had received no replies to the correspondence bringing cases and human rights concerns to the attention of the authorities.

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