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US Pushes for Release of Jailed Libyan Dissident


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte urged his Libyan counterpart Friday to release jailed Libyan political activist Fathi al-Jahmi, who reportedly is in ill health. Second-ranking Libyan Foreign Ministry official Mohammed Taher Siala was at the State Department to sign a U.S.-Libyan Science and Technology agreement. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are pointing to the science accord as evidence of an expanding relationship with Libya, which began its political rehabilitation in 2003 by renouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

But they acknowledge continuing problem issues with Libya among them human rights and the continued detention of Fathi al-Jamhi.

The 66-year-old political activist, a former provincial governor, has been under detention most of the time since 2002 when he publicly broke with Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and called for free elections and the release of political prisoners.

His latest jail term began in 2004 and he subsequently was convicted in a secret trial of subversion charges, stemming from - among other things - contacts with a U.S. diplomat.

Last week, the State Department renewed a public call for al-Jahmi's unconditional release after a report on his case by the monitoring group Human Rights Watch, which said he remained in ill health and hospitalized under guard - despite news reports he had been discharged.

Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Negroponte raised human rights as part of a broader review of bilateral ties with Libya.

That does include a reiteration of something we made a public statement about the other day, which is our desire and call for the Libyan government to release Fathi al-Jahmi, a prominent Libyan activist who continues to be held by Libyan authorities," he said. "And we would view his release as an important demonstration of Libya's commitment to improving its human rights record, and the Deputy [Negroponte]made those points in his meeting today.

Casey said Negroponte and the Libyan official also discussed continuing issues concerning Libyan compensation to families of victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland, and a bomb attack two years earlier at a Berlin disco.

Libya has paid the families of the 270 victims of the Pan Am attack $8 million each, but a final payment of $2 million each has been stalled by a legal dispute.

Libya accepted responsibility for the airliner attack in 2003. The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya in 2006 and lifted sanctions against the North African country a year later.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalgam in January became the highest-ranking Libyan official to visit Washington in 35 years.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has put off a Libya visit, that had been tentatively planned for last autumn, and officials here say such a visit will not occur until compensation issues are cleared away.

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