April 22, 2009
Libya's Forgotten Man‏
Tags: al-darrat libya qaddafi - 20 April 2009

No freedom of expression in Libya
Since 1969 Colonel Gaddafi has taken a hard line against troublesome representatives of the media. This uncompromising stance is exemplified by his treatment of the Libyan journalist Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi Al-Darrat, who has been missing since 1973. By Hamid Skif
In some parts of the Islamic world (Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia), the media are so strictly controlled that even the mildest forms of protest are forbidden.
In other Islamic countries (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen), working conditions are somewhat easier; yet journalists still struggle to work under the eyes of a subservient judiciary tasked with applying a legal code that is inimical to freedom.
Critical journalists muzzled
Take Libya, for instance: "Jamahiriya" ("the republic of the masses"), as Muammar Gaddafi would have it. This year, there has been an international campaign to secure the release of around 500 journalists imprisoned there. In addition, there have been calls for an investigation into the case of Abdullah Ali Al-Sanussi Al-Darrat, a Libyan journalist who disappeared without trace in 1973.
Since the putsch that brought Gaddafi to power in September 1969, Libyans have been heavily burdened by a ban on all forms of freedom of expression. When asked about Al-Darrat's abduction, people are at a loss to explain why he was targeted or where he has been held prisoner.
Al-Darrat was never sentenced in any court, and while the Libyan Human Rights League has attempted to discover more about his fate, all such enquiries have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Most observers reckon that the missing journalist is long since dead, yet no one has the slightest idea about the circumstances under which his presumed death took place.
What is puzzling about Al-Darrat is the absence of any public campaigns on his behalf. Should "the forgotten man of the desert" still actually be alive, he will by now have spent 33 years in jail without anyone having enquired about his fate.
The Al-Darrat case – a taboo subject in Libya
None of Libya's prominent state guests has ventured to ask Colonel Gaddafi about Al-Darrat's whereabouts, and no one in Libya has ever publicly demanded his release. With the current "normalisation" of relations between Libya, the USA and the European Union, the inevitable fear is that no further light will be shed on the matter.
This will remain the case as long as the political interests of the states involved carry significantly more weight than human rights.
Western leaders' public pronouncements in support of human rights stand in sharp contrast to their lack of concrete action. As a result, suspicions are strengthened in the Arab world that the West takes notice of such matters only when its own interests in the region are at stake.
Therefore, this year's World Press Freedom Day should be dedicated to Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi Al-Darrat. His freedom should be demanded, or – at the very least – the Libyan government should be urged to supply verifable information as to his whereabouts.
Despite the focus on Al-Darrat, other imprisoned journalists, in Syria and elsewhere, should not be forgotten. In Morocco, for instance, Mohamed Benchicou is currently serving a jail sentence for publishing a pamphlet criticising President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Hamid Skif
© Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by Patrick Lanagan


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