Longtime Libyan Prisoner of Conscience Fathi el-Jahmi Dies from Medical Neglect
May 27, 2009
On May 20, 2009, early in the morning, longtime Libyan prisoner of conscience Fathi el-Jahmi died at the Arab Medical Center in Amman, Jordan. On May 5, two days after he slipped into a coma, he was flown from the Tripoli Medical Center in Libya to the Arab Medical Center, accompanied by his son. He reportedly underwent surgery two days later. Although Mr. el-Jahmi had been transferred to the Tripoli Medical Center in mid 2007 because he was suffering from congestive heart failure and did receive adequate medical care there at the time, his family reported that during the six months before he died, he was denied critical medical care. His wife and children, who were permitted to visit Mr. el-Jahmi at the Tripoli Medical Center for two hours a day, watched his health deteriorate drastically. They reportedly provided the only food and drink he received each day and tended to his personal hygiene. When researchers from Human Rights Watch visited Mr. el-Jahmi at the Tripoli Medical Center on April 25 and 26, 2009, they reported that he was weak, emaciated, and could not lift his head or arms. He told them that he wanted to go home, but that he was not free to do so. Following final prayers at a nearby mosque, Fathi el-Jahmi was buried in a public cemetery in Hawari, Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. el-Jahmi, a Libyan civil engineer and former provincial governor, was arrested twice for advocating for peaceful democratic reforms and free elections in Libya and for his peaceful criticism of its leader, Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. For these efforts he was incarcerated for a total of six and a half years. Following a secret trial that failed to meet fundamental fair trial standards, a court ruled in May 2006 that he was mentally unfit for trial and ordered him detained in a psychiatric hospital. During the year that he was held there, he reported that he was denied medical care and family visits. In July 2007 he was transferred to Tripoli Medical Center because he was suffering from florid congestive heart failure. In March 2008 a medical doctor and prison health expert, Scott Allen, who is an advisor to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), visited Mr. el-Jahmi and gave him a full medical exam. He confirmed that Mr. el-Jahmi was suffering from coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes, but found no evidence of mental ill-health. Although the Libyan government claimed that, as of March 2008, Mr. el-Jahmi was a free man, Human Rights Watch researchers and Dr. Allen observed that he was confined in his hospital room, which was locked from the outside, with two guards standing watch at all times, controlling who was allowed to visit him. PHR is calling for an independent medical investigation into his death. The CHR thanks the many correspondents and members of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies who have written letters on behalf of Mr. el-Jahmi over the years.
Please see Fathi el-Jahmi’s case summary for additional information.