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Belhaj lawyers announce fresh legal action in rendition case

Leigh Day, lawyers for Abdel Hakim Belhaj, have announced that they are taking legal action against the Commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory.

9 April 2012

Lawyers for the Head of the Tripoli Military Council, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, have announced that they are extending their legal action against The UK Government and its security forces, for the alleged illegal rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife to Libya in 2004, to include the Commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Law firm Leigh Day filed legal papers at the High Court against the Commission for the British Indian Ocean Territory on Thursday 5 April. In them they claim the Commission was complicit in the extraordinary rendition of Mr and Mrs Belhaj via Diego Garcia in March 2004 and their subsequent torture in Libya, as well as their unlawful imprisonment whilst in the Territory. Legal action charity Reprieve is instructed as US counsel and providing investigative support.

The claim will be brought in the Supreme Court of the British Indian Ocean Territory under Article 6 of the British Indian Ocean Territory Ordinance No. 3 of 1983.

Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima are currently also taking legal action against The UK Government and its security forces for their part in the rendition, which features in tonight’s (Monday 9 April 2012) episode of Modern Spies on BBC 2.

Mr Belhaj, also known as Abu Abd Allah Sadiq, became a symbol of the new Libya as a commander of the anti-Gaddafi forces in the 2011 Libyan civil war.

In 2004 Mr Belhaj was living in China, having led a low level insurgency against the Gaddafi regime during the 1990’s as the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He lived in Beijing with his wife Fatima Bouchar.

In early 2004, with Ms Bouchar pregnant and fearing they were under surveillance, they decided to seek asylum in the UK. However, on trying to leave the country they were detained and deported to Malaysia, from where they had previously travelled.

On arrival in Kuala Lumpur they were immediately taken into the custody of Malaysian authorities. After being detained for a couple of weeks, they were told by the Malaysian authorities that they would be allowed to travel to the UK, but only via Bangkok. The couple were then forced to board an aircraft, which flew them to Bangkok.

On reaching Bangkok, the couple were separated, handed over to US authorities and taken to what they believe was a US secret prison. There allege they were subjected to a barrage of barbaric treatment.

Mr Belhaj was hung by his wrists from hooks in his cell for prolonged periods, while hooded, blindfolded and viciously beaten. Ms Bouchar was also mistreated so severely that she finds it difficult to discuss even today.

The couple were then rendered by US authorities to Libya out of Bangkok. Mr Belhadj was hooded and shackled to the floor of the plane in a stress position, unable to sit or lie during the entire 17-hour flight, which stopped to re-fuel in Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean Territory.

A US government memo headed “Secret Release Libya Only” discovered at the headquarters of the former Libyan security services. Dated 6 March 2004 supports this account by providing the “Schedule for the rendition of Abdullah Al-Sadiq”.

This confirms that the flight would land on Diego Garcia at 03:30 GMT on 9 March 2004, receive fuel and depart at 05:30 GMT.

Mr Belhaj was later informed by the then head of the Libyan security services, Moussa Koussa, that the stopover had in fact taken place on Diego Garcia with the permission of the British authorities.

On reaching Libya Mr Belhadj was detained for 6 years in some of the country’s most brutal jails and was interrogated by ‘foreign’ agents, including some from the UK.

He was savagely beaten, hung from walls and cut off from human contact and daylight before being sentenced to death during a 15-minute trial about 4 years in to his detention. The beatings and inhumane treatment continued until 2010 when he was eventually released.

Ms Bouchar was imprisoned in Libya for four months. She was released just three weeks before giving birth, by which time her health, and that of her baby, was in a precarious state. She was also subjected to aggressive interrogations during her detention.

Rosa Curling from Leigh Day said: "The evidence we have seen suggests that our clients were sent back to Libya via Diego Garcia, with the UK government's involvement and knowledge. Our clients want to know the truth about what happened to them and who was responsible. This government needs to be open and transparent about the mistakes of the past, so as to ensure they are not repeated in the future."

Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve, said: 'we have asked the government for months to say whether Belhadj and his wife were sent to Gaddafi via Diego Garcia as planned. They refused. If he did, then ministers right up through David Miliband in 2008 have either been deceived, or lied. All the family want is for the whole truth of their fate, and Britain's role in it, to be known, so these mistakes never occur again.”

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