Cablegate: Gol Delays Releasing Detained Human Rights Activist Fathi El-Jahmi
DE RUEHTRO #0266/01 0910933
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 310933Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3291
INFO RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS IMMEDIATE 0471
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS IMMEDIATE 0647
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT IMMEDIATE 0598
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO IMMEDIATE 1052
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON IMMEDIATE 0770
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME IMMEDIATE 0408
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 3787
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TRIPOLI 000266
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND DRL E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/31/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL PINR LY
SUBJECT: GOL DELAYS RELEASING DETAINED HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FATHI EL-JAHMI REF: A) TRIPOLI 223, B) TRIPOLI 229
CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: A pair of recent visits by Emboffs to detained human rights activist Fathi el-Jahmi, who remains at the Tripoli Medical Center (TMC) despite assurances he would be released in late March, suggest that the GOL and Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF) are using prostate complications attendant to a recent change in medication as a pretext to delay his discharge while they pressure his family to sign a written pledge that he will refrain from political statements or discussion of his detention after his release. The QDF subsequently told Post the requirement for a signed, written statement had been dropped, but the family claims this has not been conveyed to them. El-Jahmi's treating physician believes his prostate condition is not/not serious and says el-Jahmi's cardiac condition - the most serious of his medical issues - is stable enough that he may be safely discharged immediately. End summary.
VISITS TO THE TMC
2.(C) P/E Chief visited el-Jahmi at the Tripoli Medical Center (TMC) on March 27 and March 30. El-Jahmi's wife and sons, Muhammad and Ahmed, were present during both visits. His treating physician, Dr. Abdulrahman Mehdy, was present for the second visit on March 30. Three plainclothes security officials, whom P/E Chief has seen before (ref A and previous) were present during the first visit, but not the second. Breaking with past practice, P/E Chief established a time for the second visit with el-Jahmi's son, Muhammad, by telephone. Muhammad said security officials, who are otherwise constantly present, vacated their posts about 30 minutes before P/E Chief arrived on March 30. The man described as el-Jahmi's "nurse", Abdullah Bashir, was not present during either visit.
EL-JAHMI'S CARDIAC CONDITION STABLE
3.(C) Dr. Mehdy described el-Jahmi's current medical condition as "stable and good"; however, a new beta blocker heart medication introduced after the recent visit of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) had adversely interacted with one of el-Jahmi's medications for his prostate condition, causing his blood pressure to drop. The prostate medication was discontinued; el-Jahmi subsequently experienced a resurgence of prostate-related symptoms (burning during micturation and minor incontinence). Mehdy stressed those conditions were not/not serious and did not, in his opinion, prevent el-Jahmi from being discharged from hospital.
PROSTATE COMPLICATION NOT/NOT SERIOUS
4.(C) Clarifying contradictory reports from HRW and the media about proposed surgical intervention for el-Jahmi's prostate condition, Mehdy explained that the TMC's resident urologist, in Italy for a conference, would return to Tripoli April 2 and would assess el-Jahmi's condition on/about April 3. In his initial consultations with Mehdy, the urologist suggested his preference would be to remove el-Jahmi's prostate and subsequently biopsy it to determine whether any malignancy was present. (Note: It was unclear late last week whether the proposed procedure would be a biopsy or removal of el-Jahmi's prostate. End note.) Mehdy said another approach, believed to be that advocated by PHR's Dr. Scott Allen, who visited el-Jahmi circa March 12-14, would be to first biopsy el-Jahmi's prostate to determine whether it was necessary to remove it.
DOCTOR SAYS (PRIVATELY) THAT EL-JAHMI CAN BE RELEASED ...
5.(C) Mehdy said el-Jahmi's cardiac condition was, in his medical opinion, sufficiently stable that he could be safely discharged from the TMC, provided he received needed ongoing care on an outpatient basis. The typical observation period for the new beta blocker medication introduced after the HRW/PHR visit was two weeks. That period had already elapsed. A very conservative approach would call for a further four to five days of observation, but barring any change in condition el-Jahmi TRIPOLI 00000266 002 OF 003 could be released by about April 4. El-Jahmi's prostate condition was not/not serious enough to delay his discharge.
QDF TELLS FAMILY THEY MUST SIGN PLEDGE TO KEEP EL-JAHMI QUIET El-Jahmi's family said they have all but completed repairs to the family home in Tripoli and would be ready to take el-Jahmi there directly from the TMC. Earlier discussions about the QDF providing a furnished flat or villa in which el-Jahmi could convalesce before his expected return to Benghazi had not born fruit. During P/E Chief's visit on March 27, Muhammad said QDF Human Rights Director Abdelsalem Saleh had stipulated that Muhammad and his mother sign a document as a condition for his discharge from hospital pledging that el-Jahmi would not "speak with anyone in any channel" about political issues or his experience in detention. The signed statement would make Muhammad and his mother responsible for keeping el-Jahmi quiet. Saleh told Muhammad that el-Jahmi and his family would "be directly affected" if el-Jahmi spoke with anyone after leaving hospital. QDF Executive Director Sawani subsequently called the CDA, asking that he convey to Washington that after consultation with the QDF's chairman (i.e., Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi), the requirement for a signed, written pledge had been dropped. El-Jahmi's wife and sons stressed to P/E Chief on March 30 that the QDF had not/not told them that the requirement for a signed statement had been dropped.
8.(C) El-Jahmi told P/E Chief on March 27 that he would not/not agree to any "formal conditions" in exchange for his discharge, and had told his wife and Muhammad that he did not/not consent to their signing the QDF's proposed pledge, either. As reported ref B, during HRW/PHR's visit, el-Jahmi agreed to abide by the tacit understanding that he would refrain from public statements about political issues or his detention. According to HRW/PHR, el-Jahmi's daughter, Najla, played a key role in convincing her father that he should agree to remain quite, stressing to him that his focus - for now - should be on recovering his health and protecting his family.
EL-JAHMI REQUESTS POLITICAL ASYLUM
9.(C) On March 27, el-Jahmi told P/E Chief he needed "international protection" and mentioned asylum. He asked that the Embassy explore the possibility of either transporting him from the TMC to his home in an Embassy vehicle or escorting him. On March 30, he reiterated the request for protection and clarified his remarks on asylum, indicating that he was requesting political asylum from the U.S. Noting references to an asylum request in a media statement by el-Jahmi's brother, resident in the U.S., P/E Chief said he would convey the request. Given GOL sensitivities, P/E Chief noted that our ability to act on that request would depend in part on limiting public discussion of it. (Note: As reported ref B, the QDF indicated it was "not opposed" to facilitating issuance of a passport to el-Jahmi to travel abroad for treatment, provided he abided by the tacit understanding that he would refrain from speaking publicly about political issues or his experience in detention. End note.)
THE WAY AHEAD: COMMENT & GUIDANCE REQUEST
10.(C) Comment: It increasingly appears that the GOL, acting through the QDF, is using el-Jahmi's prostate complications as a pretext to delay releasing him while they pressure Muhammad and his mother to formally pledge that el-Jahmi will stay quiet after his discharge. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, who is personally involved, has a considerable personal stake in TRIPOLI 00000266 003 OF 003 ensuring that el-Jahmi's release does not prompt adverse media reaction akin to that in the Bulgarian nurses case last summer. The QDF is in the delicate position of trying to facilitate el-Jahmi's release to respond positively to international pressure and assuring reluctant old guard regime elements that the GOL will not be embarrassed for its efforts. Post recommends that NEA/MAG contact Dr. Allen in the U.S. to: 1) pass el-Jahmi's latest test results (sent to NEA/MAG by email); 2) ask him to consult with Dr. Mehdy by telephone and, 3) explore whether Dr. Allen would be willing to recommend to the QDF - either directly or through Post - that el-Jahmi is fit to be discharged. (Note: Post is not in a position to have confidential conversations with Dr. Allen. End note.) SIPDIS
11.(C) Comment (continued): Post notes that the QDF's Dr. Sawani is currently in Washington for a joint Green Book Society/Middle East Institute conference on Libya and Africa, scheduled to take place March 31. If the opportunity arises to engage Dr. Sawani while he is in Washington, Post suggests that the following points be conveyed to him: 1) our understanding is that there is no medical reason for keeping el-Jahmi in hospital; 2) el-Jahmi should be released from the TMC now; 3) there should be no formal conditions for el-Jahmi's release and, 4) it is expected that the QDF and GOL will ensure el-Jahmi's physical safety. Post would suggest the following points for any public statements on the case: 1) We welcome news that Fathi el-Jahmi's medical condition has improved since he began receiving treatement, and; 2) the embassy has visited el-Jahmi regularly to assess his medical condition and prognosis for his release, and has been in regular contact with el-Jahmi and his family. (Note: Post strongly recommends that the Department not/not disclose publicly or to HRW/PHR and others that el-Jahmi has requested asylum; our ability to successfully secure el-Jahmi's passport and dispensation to travel will depend in large measure on the extent to which our engagement and role remain quiet. End note.)
12.(C) Guidance Request: Post requests guidance on how to respond to el-Jahmi's request for political asylum. End comment & guidance request.