Leigh Day, working together with legal action charity Reprieve, represent two former Libyan dissidents and their families who allege that they were unlawfully rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya with the complicity of the British Government back in 2004.
Legal proceedings were issued in the High Court in London on behalf of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi and their families in June 2012. The Defendants include the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, former Head of Counter-Terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen, as well as The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Security Service (MI5).
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj was Head of the Tripoli Military Council during the Libyan revolution of 2011 and a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (‘LIFG’). In early 2004 he and his pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar, tried to travel from China to the UK where they planned seek asylum. However, when attempting to leave China they were deported to Malaysia, where they were detained and then forced on to a flight to Bangkok.
In Bangkok, the couple were handed over to US authorities and taken to what they believe was a US secret prison. There they were subjected to a barrage of barbaric treatment. They were then rendered by the US to Libya where Mr Belhaj was detained for six years in two of the country’s most brutal jails. He was savagely beaten, hung from walls, cut-off from human contact and daylight and sentenced to death. During his detention, he was interrogated by UK agents, among others. He was eventually released in March 2010 under an amnesty.
Ms Boudchar was imprisoned in Libya for four months. She was subjected to aggressive interrogations and released just three weeks before giving birth, by which time her health, and that of her baby, was in a precarious state.
A few weeks after the rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife, another prominent LIFG member, Sami al-Saadi, his wife and their four young children, aged 6 to 12 years, were forced aboard an Egyptian aircraft in Hong Kong and also rendered to Libya.
During the six years of his detention Mr al-Saadi was subjected to horrific treatment, including violent assaults, flogging and electrocution. As with Mr Belhaj, he was held incommunicado, subjected to a flagrantly unfair trial and sentenced to death. His wife and children were imprisoned for approximately 2.5 months. Following their release, they were prohibited from leaving Libya and were subjected to surveillance by the Gaddafi regime.
Confidential documents discovered by Human Rights Watch in Libyan Government offices, following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, suggested the involvement of the British Government in the two rendition operations. These included a fax apparently sent from Sir Mark Allen of MI6 to the Libyan authorities in March 2004, saying:
"I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Mr Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years.....Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from [Mr Belhaj] through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence about [Mr Belhaj] was British... I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this”.
The families decided to bring proceedings against Jack Straw following a Sunday Times report (on 15 April 2012) that MI6 had evidence which confirmed that Mr Straw had signed off on the rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife.
In December 2012 the al-Saadi family agreed to settle their claim for a total sum of £2.23m. Meanwhile, Mr Belhaj and his wife have openly offered to drop their case for £1, an apology and an admission of liability from Jack Straw, Sir Mark Allen and the British Government. Their offer has not been accepted, so the court case continues.
A trial on various preliminary issues is due to take place in October 2013. The case could be one of the first in which an application for a ‘closed material procedure’ (or secret trial) is made by the Government under the controversial Justice and Security Act 2013.
For more information contact Sapna Malik.