Authors urge Miliband to stand up for Human Rights in Libya
A group of award-winning writers has today sent an open letter to David Miliband, demanding that he seek information on the Libyan democracy activist Jaballa Matar. Matar was abducted in 1990, and imprisoned without charge in Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. Held completely incommunicado, it was feared that he was killed in a prison massacre in 1996. However, a Human Rights Watch Report released last month reported that Matar had been seen in a Tripoli High Security prison in 2002, giving free speech activists fresh hope that he may still be alive.
Jaballa is the father of the novelist Hisham Matar, whose book In The Country of Men was shortlisted for the Booker Prizer in 2006. Members of PEN, the international association of writers, including Booker Prize winners Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood, and Nobel laureates JM Coetzee, Wole Soyinka and Orhan Pamuk, have co-signed a
letter to the Foreign Secretary, asking him to take up the case of Jaballa Matar with the Libyan government.
Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan said:
‘Ten years ago Libya was a pariah among nations. Its rehabilitation into the international community has been spectacular. Last year it held the presidencies of the UN Security Council and the General Assembly. But this new respectability is hollow while Libya’s human rights record remains abysmal. The notorious Internal Security Agency is still a law unto itself. Jaballa Matar has been held without trial for twenty years. For a long time his family feared he was dead. Unknown hundreds share his situation.
The hope is that David Miliband and his colleagues in other foreign ministries will raise Matar’s case, and human rights generally, with Colonel Gaddafi’s government. There is some reason to think that it might be ready now to listen. Libya is a strange, proud and beautiful country – I spent the greater part of my childhood there. I would like the Foreign Secretary to make the case to the Colonel that these abuses of individual liberty, of due process and of freedom of expression and association diminish his country, however many presidencies it holds. For Jaballa Matar to be reunited with his family would be the true sign of Libya’s political maturity.’
Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Zadie Smith said:
‘Hisham Matar is my friend and respected colleague, and he has suffered a great personal tragedy – but a tragedy that’s now also a public scandal. Britain’s eagerness to rehabilitate Gaddafi’s regime in order to further British business interests, particularly those of BP, must be qualified and subject to demands for Libya to improve the human rights of its citizens. Gordon Brown must ask for the immediate release of Libya’s “disappeared”, those held, like Hisham’s father, without trial and in secret.’
Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said:
‘Jaballa Matar is fortunate to have a son as dedicated, and as highly respected in the West, as Hisham. Most of Libya’s political prisoners, including writers and journalists, are truly isolated from the world. I hope that the support for this campaign shows Libya that in order to improve their standing in the outside world they will also have to improve their relationship with their own people.’
Michael Ondaatje said:
‘It is twenty years since Jaballa Matar was stolen from his family. He has never been charged or tried, and his fundamental rights have been grotesquely violated. If the Libyan Government really wants to establish a better reputation on the world stage, it must first redress such human rights abuses. If it can’t at least do this, then what value is Britain’s new-found relationship with this regime?’
Full Text of letter to Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP, Foreign Secretary
15th January 2009
Jaballa Matar, father of the 2006 Man Booker shortlisted and 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winning British author Hisham Matar, was one of the most prominent Libyan political activists. He continually called for democracy, the rule of law and justice in Libya. He was kidnapped from his home in Cairo in 1990. His family has not seen him since. Letters written by Jaballa Matar were smuggled out of Libya’s political prison, Abu Salim, in 1992 and 1995. They confirmed that the Egyptian authorities held him in Cairo for two days then handed him over to Libyan officials. He was then flown to Tripoli, tortured and subjected to arbitrary detention. He was seen in 2002 in another, secret political prison in Tripoli. His family, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International believe him still to be in Libya. However, the Libyan government continues to deny any knowledge of his whereabouts and that of others amongst Libya’s disappeared. Jaballa Matar is yet to be granted an open trial.
We urge Her Majesty’s government to use its new relationship with the Libyan government to demand sincere and significant improvements in Libya’s human rights record. We therefore ask the Foreign Office whether, having regard to the latest Human Rights Watch report published on 12th December 2009 in which Jaballa Matar’s case is documented, it will seek information from the Libyan government about the whereabouts of Jaballa Matar and other political prisoners.
Lisa Appignanesi President, English PEN
Carole Seymour-Jones Chair, Writers in Prison Committee, English PEN
Sir Salman Rushdie
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
Carole Ann Duffy
Sir Andrew Motion
Sir Tom Stoppard
Sir David Hare
Philippe Sands, QC
And 200 others
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/campaigns/campaignforjaballamatar/