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Fathi Eljahmi Gave His Life for Freedom in Libya

When he was re-arrested in March, 2004, Fathi was 62 years old; lively, courageous, outspoken and full of plans for rallying Libyans to the cause of a freer country. He died today, at the age of 68, imprisoned, stifled and physically destroyed by Gaddafi's regime.

For his brother in America, Mohamed Eljahmi, the years of Fathi's imprisonment have meant endless rounds with the media and in Washington, trying to draw attention to his brother's imprisonment, and defense of freedom. Mohamed, or "Moh," deserves recognition along with his brother, Fathi, for explaining, defending, and standing by the cause of liberty -- long after many of the worthies in Washington, especially in the State Department, have switched out the lights and gone home for the day.

Over the past five years, I have written and written about Fathi Eljahmi. So have a number of others. Various human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called attention to his case. Physicians for Human Rights sent a doctor to see him, reported that he had been deprived of vital medication, and called last year for his immediate release to seek decent medical care.

 But Libya did not let him out travel anywhere until early this month, when -- according to his brother, Moh -- he had lapsed into a coma, and it appeared his death was imminent. At that point, Libyan authorities dispatched him to Jordan, where he was kept in a medical center, his visitors still monitored -- according to Moh -- by Libyan security. This was a move hailed on May 13 by a spokesman for the U.S. State Department as a "positive development" -- which at the time seemed at best a highly blinkered, cavalier and short-term view of a drama in which a vibrant advocate of democracy had been reduced by Gaddafi's prison system to a comatose hospital patient, neither seen nor heard in public for more than five years.

Gaddafi, while destroying the life of Fathi Eljahmi, has received a parade of important visitors (including, last fall, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice), shed sanctions, been taken off the terror list, and has gone on to head the African Union. Libya headed the preparations for the UN's Durban II racist conference on racism, held last month in Geneva. With U.S. assent, Libya has been exalted these past two years to a seat on the UN Security Council. And an envoy of Gaddafi's Libya is expected to become president of the UN General Assembly for its next annual session, from Sept. 2009-Sept. 2010.

This is not because Libya's regime has reformed -- which it has not. This is because the "international community" doesn't give a damn.

As Fathi Eljahmi lay dying in Libyan-organized seclusion in Jordan, the world was focused on other matters -- including a case now in the news of a Libyan-born Al Qaeda terrorist who died recently in the same Abu Salim prison where Fathi was held during his first round of incarceration.

For years, like some of the others following Fathi's case, I have been trying via one angle after another to draw attention to the monstrous injustices inflicted on this true freedom fighter. Yesterday I filed a column to Forbes.com, "A Tale of Two Libyans," contrasting the considerable concern now being devoted to the dead Libyan terrorist with the broad lack of interest in the continuing plight of the gravely ill Libyan democratic advocate, Fathi Eljahmi.

Shortly after that column came out last night, came word from Moh that Fathi Eljahmi had just died in Jordan. May we find ways in hard times ahead to keep faith with this hero. In giving his life for the cause of freedom, Fathi Eljahmi fought not only for the future of Libya, but for all of us.

(Credit for photo above: Human Rights Watch)