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For Immediate Release

PHR Calls for Investigation into Death of Libyan Dissident Fathi Al-Jahmi

Cambridge, Mass - 05/21/2009

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls for an independent medical investigation into the demise of prominent Libyan prisoner of conscience Fathi al-Jahmi, who died May 21 in a hospital in Amman, Jordan. Mr. Al-Jahmi, an outspoken critic of the regime of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, had been in the custody of Libyan security for the past five years, including most recently under guard at the Tripoli Medical Center. He was transported to Amman several weeks ago -- reportedly in a semi-conscious or comatose state -- and breathing on a ventilator. Information about his latest condition was not made public. His body is reportedly being transported to Libya for burial.

In March 2008, Physicians for Human Rights conducted an independent medical examination of the prisoner (PDF), and issued a full report with Mr. Al-Jahmi’s explicit request that it be made public to the widest audience. PHR, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on the Libyan Government to release Mr. Al-Jahmi and allow him to seek medical care of his choosing.

Dr. Scott Allen, PHR’s medical advisor who conducted the 2008 evaluation, stated, “Independent medical judgment has not governed the care of Mr. Al-Jahmi. Not only was he inappropriately confined in a hospital for many months – he was also placed in a psychiatric facility without cause, and the Libyan government never provided any evidence to support such an intervention.”

Al-Jahmi suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. At the time of PHR’s visit in March 2008, Al-Jahmi remained in the Tripoli Medical Center, where security officers controlled access to visitors. Al-Jahmi's hospitalization under guard stemmed from a May 2006 court decision, which determined him mentally unfit for trial and ordered him detained at a psychiatric hospital. During the roughly one year Al-Jahmi spent at the psychiatric hospital, his health significantly declined, forcing his transfer to the Tripoli Medical Center in July 2007. Al-Jahmi told Physicians for Human Rights that during his detention in the psychiatric hospital, authorities denied him access to needed medications and a doctor, as well as family visits.

In September 2008, PHR called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to give priority to the release and urgent medical care of Fathi al-Jahmi as the US normalization of relations with Libya progressed.

Physicians for Human Rights is concerned that family members of the deceased prisoner may not be in a position to freely express their wishes in regards to a full investigation of the death.

“Under these circumstances, an independent inquiry, including an autopsy, would be the best way to establish a factual record of what happened to Fathi al-Jahmi,” stated PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. “PHR also believes that Mr. Al-Jahmi himself would have wanted nothing less, given his repeated requests to us last year that his medical records and conditions of confinement be shared with the world. He was a staunch advocate for freedom of expression and democracy in Libya.”

“The Libyan government has always asserted that it has provided the best possible care to Fathi Al-Jahmi. Therefore, they should have nothing to hide and should allow a full investigation,” stated Dr. Allen.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani, a forensic pathologist who is a senior advisor to PHR’s International Forensic Program, and who has extensive experience conducting death investigations in many countries, has offered to travel immediately to Libya to conduct an autopsy and review the medical records in this case, as part of an independent investigation.

Editors, please note: Hi-res photos of PHR medical advisor Dr. Scott Allen examining Fathi al-Jahmi in March 2008 are available online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/physiciansforhumanrights/sets/72157618576546208/

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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