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Belhaj torture case - first High Court hearing begins

The first Court hearing begins between the Government’s and representatives for the Libyan politician Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, who was illegally rendered to Libya in 2004

20 May 2013

The first Court hearing will take place today (21 May 2013) between the Government’s lawyers and representatives for the Libyan politician Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, who was illegally rendered to Libya in 2004.

This latest stage toward a full trial at the High Court follows the British Government’s refusal to accept Mr Belhaj’s offer to drop his case against the Government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Sir Mark Allen, former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, for £1, an apology and an admission of liability.

Key topics to be argued out at this Case Management Conference (CMC) include how soon the case can come to trial and what issues should be dealt with before a trial can take place.

Lawyers for Mr Belhaj state that the case can be tried in the autumn and not ‘kicked into the long grass’ through legal wrangling from the Government which is arguing that a number of preliminary issues must be dealt with before the case can proceed. For instance, the Government argues that the English Courts are not able to deal with the case because it involves foreign states.

Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Mr Belhaj and his wife said: "This case should be held as soon as possible and must not be left to drag on over a number of years at vast expense to the British taxpayer. The spurious preliminary issues raised by the government will only serve to delay the inevitable embarrassment those accused will undoubtedly face.”

Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “We already know that our government was involved in kidnapping Gaddafi’s opponents – along with their wives and young children – and sending them back to his torture chambers. This went hand-in-hand with Tony Blair’s ‘deal in the desert’ with Gaddafi and is one of the most shameful episodes of Britain’s involvement in the ‘War on Terror.’ Yet ministers are making it worse by fighting in the courts. This is not about money. The Government could have ended this months ago by admitting what they did, apologising and paying £1.”

Background:


In 2004 Mr Belhaj was leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, opposing the Libyan dictator, when American intelligence officers at Bangkok airport in Thailand detained him and his wife.

The couple were rendered by US authorities to Libya out of Bangkok. Mr Belhaj 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.

In Libya Mr Belhaj was detained for six 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 four 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. 

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