Libya’s leading democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi, died today – off the radar of the MSM, held for a final two weeks under wraps in a Jordanian hospital to which he was spirited earlier this month, comatose, and still watched by Libyan security, after almost seven years of isolation, deprivation and abuse inside the prison system of Muammar Gaddafi.
Fathi Eljhami gave his life for the cause of freedom. Part of his time in the clutches of Gaddafi’s security apparatus he spent — in an echo of Soviet brutality inflicted on democratic dissidents — confined in a Libyan psychiatric hospital. His “insanity” consisted of advocating free speech and calling for democratic reform in Libya.
It is hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken for Fathi — born in Libya, standing up for freedom inside Libya — to defy Gaddafi, whose regime along with its terrorist history abroad has tyrannized Libya itself for the past 40 years. When Fathi Eljahmi began speaking up for freedom, years ago, Gaddafi in 2002 threw him into Libya’s Abu Salim prison –notorious for its abuse of inmates, including a horrendous massacre of prisoners in 1996, in which up to 1,200 may have died.
In 2004, Eljahmi enjoyed a brief respite, released from prison at the request of then-Senator Joe Biden, who that March came to Libya to visit Gaddafi. Eljahmi’s release lasted less than three weeks. He answered America’s call for democratization in the Islamic world; he gave a series of interviews calling for liberty in Libya. For broadcast throughout the Middle East, he told the U.S.-based Arabic language Al Hurrah TV station that “I share with President Bush and all of the American people human sentiments and desires for freedom, democracy and propagation of democracy, human rights, right of ownership and right to form a civil society.”
It was during that fleeting respite in March, 2004, that I spoke with him by phone from New York. Fathi spoke halting English, and I do not speak Arabic, so his brother — a naturalized U.S. citizen living in America, Mohamed Eljahmi — acted as interpreter on a conference call between the U.S. and Eljhami’s cell phone in Libya (his landline had been cut). Fathi described a scene of internal dissent in Libya, and the need for political reform. He said he was against the deal just done by the U.S. with Gaddafi — in which Gaddafi gave up his WMD programs in exchange for getting off the U.S. terror list and out from under sanctions. Fathi described it as “a deal that trades WMD for the liberty of the Libyan people.”
It seems a reasonable assessment by now to say that he sure had that right.
In late March, 2004, Fathi Eljhami was snatched back into custody by Libyan security forces, for what turned out to be more than five solid years — in other words, for the rest of his life. Held much of that time incommunicado, he went on sending messages when he could. In 2005, when he was allowed a visit by a representative of HumanRights Watch, he asked that his greetings be sent to the U.S. President and Congress. Those greetings included the specific words: “Tell them we are ready for democracy.”