The United States Thursday renewed a call on the Libyan government to release prominent Libyan dissident Fathi al-Jahmi, whose health is reportedly failing. Human rights cases have slowed expansion of U.S.-Libyan ties after diplomatic relations were fully restored last May.
The United States is again calling for the release of al-Jahmi, considered Libya's most prominent political prisoner, amid reports he is being held in solitary confinement and getting inadequate medical care despite several serious health problems.
The al-Jahmi, 65, a human rights campaigner in Libya since the late 1970s, has been in and out of Libyan jails the past several years.
In 2002, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison after criticizing the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's "Green Book" political manifesto and calling for free elections.
He was released in March of 2004 following personal intervention on his behalf with Mr. Gaddafi by U.S. Senator Joseph Biden.
But he was arrested again two weeks later after again criticizing the Gaddafi government in international broadcast interviews, and meeting with U.S. diplomats to express gratitude for his release.
Human rights groups say al-Jahmi has been accused of conspiring with foreign agents, apparently from his meetings with U.S. officials, and could face the death penalty.
Asked about the case at a news briefing, acting State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos declined to discuss the charges against al-Jahmi, but said his case has been a fixture on the U.S. agenda with Libyan officials.
"The Libyan authorities continue to detain him," he said. "We've repeatedly raised his case at the highest levels and have called on the Libyan government to release him. We continue to urge the Libyan government to release him and will continue to do so."
The Washington Post said Thursday human rights activists and diplomats are increasingly concerned about al-Jahmi's welfare, because he suffers from serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease and is receiving little or no medical care.
The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya in May of this year, capping a process of rapprochement that began in 2003 when the Gaddafi government renounced terrorism and agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs.
However, U.S. political contacts with Libya have not risen beyond the senior official level thus far, because of lingering problem issues including human rights and final compensation for Libya's admitted role in a bombing that brought down a U.S. PanAm jetliner over Scotland in 1988.
In addition to the al-Jahmi case, U.S. officials remain concerned about the fate of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in 2004 for allegedly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the HIV virus.
A re-trial of the case began in Tripoli late last month. The United States, while expressing sympathy for the Libyan children and working with other countries on a compensation plan, has repeatedly called for the release and repatriation of all the defendants in the case.