Warning: ob_start(): non-static method wpGoogleAnalytics::get_links() should not be called statically in /home3/freemat1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wp-google-analytics/wp-google-analytics.php on line 259
Free Jaballa Matar » Press



– Time for Gaddafi to show some mercy, The Mail, 9th January 2010.
– Ask Libya about Matar, Mr Miliband, The Times, 15th January 2010.
– Writers seek British help to find Gaddafi opponent Jaballa Matar, The Times, 15th January 2010.
– David Miliband’s responds to the open letter from author Hisham Matar, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
– Where is Jaballa Matar?, The Times, 16th January 2010.
– Author, Author by Hisham Matar, The Guardian, 16th January 2010.
– An obligation to account, The Guardian, 17th January 2010
– House of Lords Hansard, 18 January 2010.
– Ministers press Libya over detentions, The Guardian, 18 January 2010.
– A flavour not unlike Saddam’s clowns being paraded in court, The Mail, 19th January 2010.
– The Books Interview: Hisham Matar, New Statesman, 25th January 2010.
– Tutu presses Libya on jailed activist, The Observer, 31st January 2010.
– Hisham Matar’s fight to free his father, The Observer, 31st January 2010.

Time for Gaddafi to show some mercy


09th January 2010

gaddafi cartoon

Colonel Gaddafi: Time for him to show some mercy?

One of our leading novelists, Hisham Matar, has received news to make any man drop his pen. He has heard that his father, an opponent of Colonel Gaddafi and long presumed dead, may actually be alive after years in Tripoli’s feared Abu Salim prison.

I have known Hisham, who was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for his novel In The Country Of Men, some 15 years. A more thoughtful man it is hard to imagine.

His father, Jaballa Matar, disappeared in Cairo in 1990. The family had moved there to escape Gaddafi’s regime. Jaballa had been a member of the Libyan delegation to the United Nations and was a critic of the Tripoli government.

It is believed that he was handed over to Gaddafi by Egyptian intelligence. The family later received a letter from him, dated 1992, confirming that he was in Abu Salim.

One later letter was smuggled out. Then came no word for years.

The Matar family thought Jaballa had died in a bloody disturbance at Abu Salim, but they were never entirely sure and had fallen into a despairing limbo.

Now, a plausible new sighting of him at another prison in 2002 has been reported by Human Rights Watch.

‘My daily routine has completely changed,’ says Hisham, 39. ‘I am a novelist until lunchtime and then, from lunch to midnight, work on my father’s case. I was 19 when I last saw him. It has been hard to continue over the years. You block it out and try to get on with life. Boy, I am so thrilled now.’

Feelers have been put out to Gaddafi’s son Saif and to Lord Rothschild, who recently brought Saif and Lord Mandelson together at a shooting party in Buckinghamshire.

Given that we recently handed the ‘Lockerbie bomber’ Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi back to Tripoli, is it too much to ask that our diplomats might start asking questions about the brave dissident Jaballa Matar?

Here is a chance for Libya to show that it has rediscovered the virtue of mercy.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd

Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group


Times Online Logo 222 x 25

From The Times

January 15, 2010

Ask Libya about Matar, Mr Miliband

Jaballa Matar was kidnapped from his home in Cairo in 1990. His family has not seen him since

Sir, 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 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 among Libya’s disappeared. Jaballa is yet to be granted an open trial.

We urge the 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 December 12, in which Jaballa’s case is documented, it will seek information from the Libyan government about the whereabouts of Jaballa and other political prisoners.

Lisa Appignanesi, President, English PEN

Hisham Matar, J.M Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka, Margaret Atwood, Kiran Desai, Anne Enright, Alan Hollinghurst, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Roddy Doyle, Sir Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Carole Ann Duffy, Sir Andrew Motion, Monica Ali, Nadeem Aslam, Trezza Azzopardi, Adam Foulds, Linda Grant, Mohsin Hamid, M.J Hyland, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, Carole Seymour-Jones, Chair, Writers in Prison Committee, Eva Hoffman, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Sir Tom Stoppard, Hari Kunzru, David Edgar, Sir David Hare, Sigrid Rausing, Philippe Sands, QC, Ruth Padel, Mark Strand, Luay Abdulilah, Dr Eve Agee, Ghalia Al Qattan, Omar Al Qattan, Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, Hanan al-Shaykh, Daniel Alarcon, Kitty Aldridge, Al Alvarez, Tahmima Anam, Fadhil Assultani, David Austin, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Betim Balaman, Veronica Ballesteros, Julie Barer, Professor Paul Barker, Damien Barr, Shumon Basar, Buzz Baum, Devorah Baum, Nicholas Beale, Charles Beckett, Jerone Bellavista, Julie Bindel, William Blacker, Kristina Boles, Erik Bostedt, Rosie Boycott, Emma Boyd, Joanna Briscoe, Gwen Burnyeat, Andrea Canobbio, Andrea Cavallari, Riccardo Cavallari, Oliver Chanarin, Tanuja Chandra, Tchaik Chassay, Brian Chikwava, Anne Chisholm, Susanne Chowdhury, Susannah Clapp, Joanna Clark, Giuseppe Conte, Clare Conville, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, Alonso Cueto Caballero, LucyAnn Curling, Amy D’Addario, Stacey D’Erasmo, Tom Darling, Alessandro de Marchant et d’ Ansembourg, Veronica del Signore, Diana Dondoe, Angela Dorazio, Tishani Doshi, Ceridwen Dovey, Lindiwe Dovey, Nick Duckett, Sarah Dunant, Tim Ecott, David Edgar, Elisaebeth Eide, Deborah Eisenberg, Nayla El Amin Habbiballa, Kristoffer Famm, Andrew Feinstein, William Fiennes, Anne Flotaker, Aminatta Forna, Cynthia , Fortune- Rainey, Ernesto Franco, Jonathan Franzen, Maureen Freely, Esther Freud, Elizabeth Gilbert, Marrianne Gimon, Misha Glenny, Francisco Goldman, David Gothard, Dr Mia Grey, Jill Grove, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, George Lucian Gugulici, Romesh Gunesekera, Dermot Healy, Alexandra Heminsley, Alistair Hicks, Rebecca Hicks, Paul Hilder, Peter Hobbs, Rachel Holmes, David Hornback, Irfan Husain, Allegra Huston, Marina Hyde, John Irving, Hala Jaber, Keren James, Liz Jesen, Ghalia Kabbani, Susan Kamil, Ed Kashi, Judith Kazantzis, Brigid Keenan, Kate Kellaway, Serephena Kennedy, Indra Khanna, Hannah Kuper, Rachel Kushner, Nick Laird, Nikita Lalwani, Rachel Lasserson, Nam Le, Darian Leader, Alastair Levy, Professor Nancy Leys Stepan, Roger Linden, Laura Lockington, Isobel Lopez, Fiach Mac Conghail, Sheena Mackay, Christopher MacLehose, Koukla Maclehose, Daniela Magnaghi, Sarah Maguire, Dan March, Ilaria Mare, Diana Matar, Cathrine Mauger-Williams, Zoe Maxwell, John McAuliffe, Annette McCormack, Patrick McGrath, Tim Meara, Professor Betty Medsger, James Meek, Askold Melnyczuk, Linda Melvern, Charlotte Mendelson, Elisa Messina, Mark Miodownik, Pankaj Mishra, Deborah Moggach, Moni Mohsin, Caroline Moorehead, Emmanuelle Moors, Patrick Morris, Blake Morrison, Ferdinand Mount, Mary Mount, Neel Mukherjee, Blake Munting, Rosalind Nashashibi, Phillip van Niekerk, Maggie O’Farrell, Timothy O’Grady, Gregory Orfalea, Geoff Palmer, LucyAnn Palmer, Manon Palmer, Ruth Palmer, Eric Parkinson, Ann Patchett, Andrew Payne, Marie Phillips, Martin Pick, Amanda Piercy, Gabriela Pomeroy, Christine Popp, Marc Preoo, Alexandra Pringle, Gwyn Pritchard, Simon Prosser, Monique Proudlove, Justice John T. Racanelli, Sirish Rao, Hepzibah Rendle-Short, Steven Rhodes, Robin Robertson, Mandana Ruane, Olivier Rubinstein, Michael Rustin, Jessica Ruston, Mark Rylance, Carole Satyamurti, Emma Satyamurti, George Saunders, Vivian Schilling, Michael Schumann, Robyn Scott, James Sevitt, Nicola Shayne, Jasprett Singh, Kathleen Smith, Mary Smith, Rowan Somerville, Ahdaf Soueif, Peter Sparks, Peter Straus, Stephen Stuart-Smith, Fawzia Tarbah, Chika Unigwe, Paul van Zyl, Rossella Vasta, Rita Vaudrey, Steve Waters, Chris Watson, Professor Stanley Wells, CBE, Sir Arnold Wesker, Megan Wiler, David Wilkinson, James Willcox, Joanne Willcox, Dr Peter Willcox, Benjamin D. Williams, C.K. Williams, Isabel Wolff, Lucinda Wood, Marius Wulfsberg, Raffaella Barker

Copyright 2010 Times Newspapers Ltd.


Times Online Logo 222 x 25

From The Times

January 15, 2010

Writers seek British help to find Gaddafi opponent Jaballa Matar

Martin Fletcher

The world’s literary elite is demanding that the British Government use its new friendship with Libya to track down a prominent dissident — the father of a highly regarded British novelist — who vanished 20 years ago.

In a letter to The Times today, 270 writers urge the Government to discover the fate of Jaballa Matar, who was seized from his Egyptian home and spirited back to Tripoli by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s agents in 1990.

Mr Matar’s son, Hisham, 39, now lives in Hammersmith, West London. He was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006 for his novel In the Country of Men. In recent years he has seen Britain lift sanctions against Libya, Tony Blair embrace Colonel Gaddafi and the release of the Lockerbie bomber — but he still does not know whether his father is alive.

He says that the Government has “soiled itself by dealing with a criminal regime”, and that it should have made improved human rights a condition of closer relations.

Many of the letter’s signatories, who include Sir Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Kiran Desai and the Nobel laureates J. M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk and Wole Soyinka, agree.

The novelist Zadie Smith called Mr Matar’s case a scandal. Ian McEwan, a Booker prizewinner who spent some of his childhood in Libya, called the country’s rehabilitation spectacular, but said that its “new respectability is hollow while its human rights record remains abysmal”.

Jaballa Matar, a colonel in Libya’s pre-revolutionary army, was one of Colonel Gaddafi’s most prominent opponents. He rallied opposition groups from Cairo, where he had fled in 1980 to escape arrest.

One afternoon in March 1990, Egyptian secret agents arrived at his house and took him away. Hisham Matar and his brother, then students in London, flew straight to Egypt and spent two years trying to find him. Officials assured them that he was in Egypt and safe, but said that he had “crossed the line” in his criticism of Libya, Egypt’s friend and neighbour.

Finally, in 1993, the family received a letter from Mr Matar that had been smuggled out of Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. He said that the Egyptians had taken him and another dissident to an airstrip, where Libyan agents were waiting. He had been tortured and kept in isolation. He has never been tried. “The cruelty of this place far exceeds all of what we know of the fortress prison of Bastille,” he wrote, but we remain stronger than their tactics of oppression … My forehead does not know how to bow.”

In 1995 the family received a second smuggled letter. In 1996 some of Mr Matar’s possessions appeared on the prison’s black market. In 2002 it emerged that the Libyan authorities had massacred 1,200 prisoners at Abu Salim one night in July 1996 and the family feared the worst.

Then, two years ago, a friend told Hisham Matar that a prisoner claimed to have seen his father in a political prison in Tripoli known as “The Gates of Hell”. He redoubled his campaign.

Mr Matar has pressed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to intervene and has approached the Libyan authorities. He has enlisted the help of Human Rights Watch, and late last year its officials met Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Colonel Gaddafi’s son and heir apparent, who has a home in London. They received no hard information about Jaballa Matar, who would be 71 if still alive.

Mr Matar said of his father’s absence: “It colours everything … It’s like living in an eternal waiting room.”

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that Mr Matar’s family “needs to know the truth now”. He acknowledged Libya’s continued abuse of human rights, and said: “The UK has raised a number of specific concerns and individual cases with Libya.”

Speaking out

Zadie Smith “Britain’s eagerness to rehabilitate Gaddafi’s regime in order to further British business interests … must be subject to demands for Libya to improve the human rights’ record of its citizens”

Ian McEwan “[Libya’s] new respectability is hollow while its human rights record remains abysmal”

Hisham Matar “I love my adopted country, but it has really soiled itself by dealing with a criminal regime and treating it as legitimate”

Copyright 2010 Times Newspapers Ltd.



Jaballa Matar’s family ‘need to know the truth now’

14 Jan 2010

David Miliband has responded to an open letter from author Hisham Matar urging the Government to find out what has happened to his father, Jaballa Matar.

Commenting on the open letter published in The Times , Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that Mr Matar’s family “needs to know the truth now”.

He acknowledged Libya’s continued abuse of human rights, and said “the UK has raised a number of specific concerns and individual cases with Libya”.

David Miliband said:

‘I fully sympathise with Hisham’s situation. I can only imagine how it must feel not to know the fate of your father year after year. I understand Hisham has made contact with the relevant people in Libya and he has my full support in his quest, on behalf of his family, to find out what happened to his father. Hisham and his family need to know the truth now.

This is one of a number of concerns we have about the human rights situation in Libya. Reports by organisations such as Human Rights Watch continue to draw attention to restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of association, political prisoners, incommunicado arbitrary detention and the mistreatment of migrants.

The UK has raised a number of specific concerns and individual cases with Libya, such as the use of the death penalty and the conditions in Libyan prisons.’

Jaballa Matar was kidnapped from his home in Cairo in 1990. His family has not seen him since.


Times Online Logo 222 x 25

From The Times

January 16, 2010

Where is Jaballa Matar?

Libya must tolerate its critics if it truly seeks to join the community of nations

Friends are people who know all your faults, but like you anyway. But that doesn’t give a man licence to flaunt those faults; nor does it demand that a friend stay silent about them. The West’s warming friendship with Libya, which has led to sanctions being lifted and to the Lockerbie bomber being released on humanitarian grounds, should not smother its readiness to challenge Tripoli on its still lamentable human rights record.

A letter published in The Times, signed by 270 leading writers and Nobel laureates, has urged the British Government to press Libya to reveal the fate of Jaballa Matar. Mr Matar, one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s most vocal critics, fled to Cairo in 1980 to escape arrest, but was seized from there by Colonel Gaddafi’s agents a decade later and spirited back to Tripoli.

Since then his son, the novelist Hisham Matar, has been struggling to discover the fate of his father, who has never been tried, though he has been tortured. He does not know even if his father is still alive. Jaballa Matar was feared to be among the 1,200 massacred by Libyan authorities at Abu Salim prison, Tripoli, in 1996, although he was reportedly sighted at a Tripoli prison, known as “The Gates of Hell”, two years ago.

Hisham Matar, who lives in London, says that the Government should have demanded that Libya improve human rights before embracing it more closely. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, says that Mr Matar’s family “needs to know the truth”. He is right. But Britain must go further. It must make clear to Colonel Gaddafi that the mark of a civilised society is that it respects the voice of dissent; that it learns to break bread with its foes without also wanting to break their heads.

Copyright 2010 Times Newspapers Ltd.


guardian.co.uk home

Author, Author

Hisham Matar

Hisham Matar has just learnt that his father, who disappeared 20 years ago, might be alive

Hisham Matar

The Guardian, Saturday 16 January 2010

Three years ago I started writing a novel about a man haunted by the absence of his ­father. He stalks his lovers, lives in his houses and wears his clothes. He is a most faithful son. And now, weeks from finishing that novel, I learn that my father, who disappeared 20 years ago, might be alive. Someone saw him in a secret political prison in Tripoli. “He is well. Frail, but well,” was the man’s message. He saw my father in 2002, but only recently was he able to send me the message. This is tremendous news. Tremendous in the way a storm or a flood can be tremendous.

Uncanny how reality presses against that precious quiet place of dreaming. As if life is jealous of fiction.

In March 1990, Egyptian secret service agents abducted my father from his home in Cairo. For the first two years they led us to believe that he was being held in Egypt, and told us to keep quiet or else they could not guarantee his safety. In 1992 my father managed to smuggle out a letter. A few months later my mother held it in her hand. His careful handwriting curled tightly on to itself to fit as many words as possible on the single A4 sheet of paper. Words with hardly a space between, above or beneath them. No margins, they run to the brink.

“Give me your hand: you are now within a foot / Of the extreme verge,” Edgar says to his blind father in King Lear. How many words do you need to say everything? How many words before the verge?

I have imagined my father composing this letter in his head, reciting it in a whisper as he paced the “concrete room” during those precious, silent hours between midnight and early morning when the loudspeaker in the centre of the ceiling stopped its relentless blaring out of revolutionary songs and speeches. With paper being scarce, he must have rehearsed what he was going to write, committed it to memory as he did countless poems. His prose is even more measured than usual. Composure and control to crack the heart. He quoted from books, as if to say “I am still here, still part of the world”. He offered precise and useful advise to my brother and me: “If you embark on a venture and it fails, move on to something else.” And “An honest profit should never exceed 30%.” He apologised to his wife for all that she had to go through. He apologised to my brother and to me. But then he said if he had it all to do again he would have walked the same path. “One day justice will be done and the jailer will replace the jailed.”

Over the years I have met several former prisoners who were there when my father was first taken to Abu Salim, in Tripoli, in March 1990. When the news made the rounds that Jaballa Matar had been captured, several ­prisoners began ululating. A mournful cry intended both as defiance to the oppressor, and as comfort to a man they regarded as their leader. My ­father seemed to have accepted this role. One former prisoner had witnessed him strike back at a torturer. “A futile retaliation,” the man told me, “but the news ran like wildfire in the prison and bolstered our hearts.” I have had nightmares about what happened next, the moment after the ­”futile ­retaliation”. This is perhaps why I am by nature unenthusiastic about such acts of heroism. I am as proud of his heroism as I begrudge the circumstances that demanded it. How often had I yearned for a pro­vincial man as father, growing old in his house.

The only other letter he managed to smuggle out to us was in 1995. Then in April 1996 the guards came and moved him and his companion Izzat al-Megaryef, a political dissident who was handed over by the Egyptians on the same day and in the same way. The two men were moved, it is not clear where. Their few belongings – cigarettes, a radio, clothes – turned up in the black market run by the guards. Two months later, in June 1996, a massacre took place in the same prison. Libyan authorities shot dead approximately 1,200 political prisoners. Guards went from cell to cell with a list of names. More prisoners were bussed in and deposited in the open courtyard of Abu Salim prison. Then gunfire.

How many bullets do you need to kill 1,200 men?

How many bullets per head should you budget for?

The shooting went on for six hours. One prisoner described it as “a drill ­inside your head”. And when I first heard this I thought: “Someone must write about this.” And here I am still unable to write about it. How do you write about it? How many words should you use?

“The longer the gunfire went on, the less likely it seemed that it would ever stop,” the former prisoner said. Just beneath it you could still hear the sound of grown men begging for mercy. Then silence. A couple of days later the stink had become so un­bearable that no matter how empty your belly, you could not keep from retching.

The news of the massacre did not reach the outside world until 2001. Gradually, various accounts began to fill in the hideous puzzle. And so, corresponding with the end of any reported sightings of my father, we began to fear the worst. Then this ­tremendous news comes.

Too many facts. I am fed up of the facts. My father is not in the facts. Where is the man I liked to make laugh? Where is the man who would only respond to my letters when they were in Arabic? I would like to write a letter in Arabic. Where is the man who used to say the word “Patience” to me as if it were a vow? Where is the man to whom I had promised a granddaughter called Taswahin – which in Arabic means “a woman equal to any man” – the name he had always wanted for the daughter he never had. Where is the man who used to call me Sharh Elbal (literally “he who soothes the mind”)? He liked to quote the repeated line in the Qur’an, from the chapter “Soothing”: “With hardship comes ease. / With hardship comes ease.”

Where is the man whose pipe stands in a cup with the five pencils I sharpen every morning? His coat hangs in my wardrobe. Maybe it still fits him.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


guardian.co.uk home

An obligation to account

Britain should act under international law if Libya will not resolve Jaballa Matar’s disappearance

Kamila Shamsie and Philippe Sands

guardian.co.uk, Sunday 17 January 2010 20.00 GMT

In Saturday’s Guardian the novelist Hisham Matar wrote of his ­anguish over the continuing ­disappearance of his father, the Libyan political dissident Jaballa Matar, who was taken from his home in Cairo in March 1990 and imprisoned in Libya. The Libyan government has never acknowledged his imprisonment. The only news his family has received directly from him has been via two letters smuggled out of prison – one written in 1992, one in 1995.

Recently the family received word that he was seen in a prison in Tripoli in 2002. Human Rights Watch has recently raised his case. A group of nearly 300 writers, including JM Coetzee, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Orhan Pamuk, wrote to David Miliband last week urging the government to seek information about the whereabouts of Matar and others. The foreign secretary responded swiftly, acknowledging concern about the human rights situation in Libya, and stating that Hisham Matar “has my full support in his quest, on behalf of his family, to find out what happened to his father”. It seems, however, that the Foreign Office has not raised this issue with the Libyans.

This is not only a story of a family’s quest, in which the UK government can play merely a supportive role. In 1988, in the landmark Velásquez Rodríguez case, the inter-American court of human rights ruled that “the forced disappearance of human beings is a multiple and continuous violation of many rights”. It is now accepted in international law that disappearing a person is an act of torture, not least for those who are left behind.

The act of disappearing a person is a continuing crime: it persists until the whereabouts of the disappeared has been fully accounted for. The Velásquez Rodríguez judgment concluded that prolonged isolation and deprivation of communication are in themselves cruel and inhuman treatment. The case supports the principle that forcible disappearance gives rise to torture. The judgment confirmed the legal obligation of a state to prevent such violations and, where it is too late for prevention, to launch an “effective search” for the truth.

Matar’s initial disappearance violated international law; his continuing imprisonment without communication with the outside world violates international law; his disappearance over nearly two decades violates international law; the failure by the Libyan government to effectively investigate his case violates international law. These violations expose individuals within the Libyan government to the risk of criminal action. What this means is that Hisham Matar’s rights are being violated. As a UK national he is entitled to expect the ­British government to intervene directly with Libya to bring the torture to an end.

This is not mere theoretical possibility. In 1998 the Lords ruled in the Pinochet case that the former Chilean leader was not entitled to claim immunity for torture allegations occurring after October 1988, when the 1984 torture convention became binding on Britain, Chile and Spain (the country that sought his extradition). An English magistrate accepted the proposition that the continuing disappearance of about 1,300 people whose whereabouts had not been established by October 1988 meant that for every one of those individuals an allegation of torture could be made. In May 1989 Libya became a party to the torture convention. The risk of individual criminal liability under the 1984 convention, the right of Britain and other countries to assert jurisdiction, and the absence of the right to claim immunity are all confirmed by the convention.

The new “Libyan model” is heralded as an example of what can be achieved by diplomacy rather than war to bring a pariah nation back into the fold. But, last month’s Human Rights Watch report makes clear that “this transformation in Libya’s foreign policy has not galvanised an equivalent transformation of Libya’s human rights record”. Disappearances and other continuing crimes have to be cleared up, properly addressed. That is the consequence of the new world of human rights, that Britain helped to put in place after the second world war. The obligation to account, the need to avoid impunity, means that others also have a role to play. Not only the British government, which has played a significant role in Libya’s rehabilitation, but also the many UK-based companies – such as BP, Shell and Ernst & Young – that have new and expanding investments in Libya. The British government and each of these companies has an interest – and, some would say, a duty – to assist Libya in bringing an end to outstanding injustices and continuing crimes.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


House of Lords Hansard

Monday, 18 January 2010.

Libya: Human Rights


2.44 pm

Asked By Lord Lester of Herne Hill

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following the Human Rights Watch report published on 12 December 2009, they will seek information from the government of Libya about (a) the whereabouts of Jaballa Hamed Matar, and (b) the circumstances in which Hamed Said Khanfoor and others have been detained since March 1990 and their expected dates of release.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, last week, the Foreign Secretary issued a statement expressing support for the efforts of Hisham Matar to ascertain the whereabouts of his father. The Foreign Secretary said:

“Hisham and his family need to know the truth now”.

Our embassy in Tripoli has raised this with the Libyans and has asked them to investigate further. We take all allegations of human rights abuses seriously and have urged the Libyan Government to address the specific cases highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report, which include that of Mr Hamed Said Khanfoor.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful for that welcome reply from the Minister, which I am sure will be greeted with great gratitude by Hisham and his family, who will no doubt wish to come and discuss the matter. Will the Minister give an assurance that no EU framework agreement will be entered into with Libya until it can be demonstrated that Libya, which has made only small progress so far in human rights, will comply fully with its international human rights obligations?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord for making that important point. The UK is a strong supporter of the EU’s attempts to negotiate 

18 Jan 2010 : Column 770 with Libya the framework agreement to which the noble Lord alluded, which in our view will provide a platform for dialogue and co-operation on areas including human rights and fundamental freedoms. Establishing a human rights dialogue is a key part of the ongoing negotiations for that framework agreement between the European Union and Libya. The last round of negotiations took place in Tripoli in December and another round is due to take place in Brussels in March. We support a rapid conclusion to the negotiations in 2010, but within the parameters that the noble Lord has described.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister’s response in relation to Jaballa Matar, but I would be grateful for a response in relation to Izzat al-Megaryef and Mansur al-Kikhya, dissidents who have also disappeared. I would also be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether the Government have sought an investigation into the massacre that took place in Abu Salim prison in 1996, when 1,200 political prisoners were slaughtered. The recent report from Human Rights Watch has raised the fact that, despite the warmth of our relationship with Libya since 2003, when it came in from the cold, there continue to be the stifling of free speech, reports of journalists being arrested when they are simply reporting human rights abuses and reports of Jamal al-Haji, a political and human rights activist, being rearrested. There are also concerns about the incarceration of children with adults. To what extent are the Government muting criticism of human rights abuses in Libya to establish trade relations, particularly on oil?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My noble friend asks for information on two people about whom I do not have clear information, although we have been following closely the cases of Jaballa Matar, Hamed Khanfoor and Mahmoud Boushima. Our embassy is monitoring the situation on all those people and the circumstances of their detention. We remain concerned by many aspects of the human rights situation in Libya. Reports continue to draw attention to the restrictions on freedom of expression. Libya’s media are one of the least free in the world. Our concerns include freedom of assembly, political prisoners, arbitrary detention, the mistreatment of migrants and the death penalty. I can reassure my noble friend that we are rigorous in our approaches in Tripoli and the assurances that we seek from the authorities on these matters. While we remain concerned and raise our concerns about many aspects of human rights in Libya, we refute the suggestion that business interests motivate our actions.

Baroness D’Souza: My Lords, could the Minister confirm when the case of Jaballa Matar last came up in direct discussions between the UK and Libyan Governments?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: In fact I can tell the noble Baroness that the last discussions on Jaballa Matar’s case took place this weekend. We have of course responded quickly and sympathetically to the situation of his son and family, who for 20 years have not known his whereabouts.

18 Jan 2010 : Column 771

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Would the Minister answer this simple question: does she agree that the EU/Libya framework agreement must be based on meaningful progress in the areas of political and human rights reform? If she does, can we just hear an affirmative answer? Will she go on to say what action the Government themselves are taking to encourage this?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: The answer is yes. As the noble Lord might expect, the action that we are taking is to work closely with European Union negotiators to ensure that the objectives that we and others have in relation to Libya are fulfilled.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement on Jaballa Matar, which has been published on the FCO website. Could the Foreign Secretary now publish a complete list of all the individual representations that have been made to the Libyan Government together with the text of any replies that have been received? Will the Foreign Office also consult our partners in the European Union so that a consolidated list of the human rights violations that we have taken up with the Libyan Government can be put together for presentation to the universal periodic review of Libya next year?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I take note of all those points and will respond to them appropriately.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Would my noble friend care to contrast the repressive action of the Libyan Government with that of the Scottish Government six months ago when they released the mass murderer al-Megrahi on the basis that he had only three months to live?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My noble friend has raised the issue of Mr al-Megrahi. On 12 October, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the UK Parliament clearly set out the Government’s position on the release of al-Megrahi. We were scrupulously clear in all our contacts with the United States and Libyan Governments about the fact that, under the devolution arrangements in place within the United Kingdom, this was exclusively a matter for Scottish Ministers in the Scottish judicial system.


guardian.co.uk home

Ministers press Libya over detentions

Government considers freezing relations over unknown fate of Jaballa Matar, an activist kidnapped from Cairo in 1990

Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 January 2010 19.49 GMT

The government will not support strengthening ties with Libya further unless assurances about the treatment of those held in detention in the country are received, the Guardian has learned.

The Foreign Office has said the family of Jaballa Matar – a prominent Libyan activist who was kidnapped from his home in Cairo in 1990 – “need to know” his whereabouts and has already contacted the Libyan government to discuss the treatment of detainees.

Human rights campaigners welcomed the announcement, made today in response to a parliamentary question after pressure intensified from Matar’s family.

Matar’s son Hisham, who was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker prize for his novel In The Country of Men, was in parliament today to hear the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester QC ask whether the government would seek information from the Libyan government about Matar’s whereabouts, and the circumstances in which other detainees were being held.

“I am greatly encouraged by the government’s response,” said Lester later. “I received a series of important assurances from the government – they have been in touch with the Libyan government and have already followed it up. There will be no framework agreement with Libya unless clear assurances are received that they will comply with their human rights obligations.”

The government confirmed yesterday that it was concerned about the treatment of detainees including British citizens in Libya.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said: “The UK has raised a number of specific concerns and individual cases with Libya, such as the use of the death penalty and the conditions in Libyan prisons.

“I fully sympathise with Hisham’s situation. I can only imagine how it must feel not to know the fate of your father year after year … Hisham and his family need to know the truth now. “This is one of a number of concerns we have about the human rights situation in Libya.”

The government’s response – the clearest sign yet that Libya’s failure to act on its human rights record will have implications for EU negotiations – comes after mounting pressure. Last week nearly 300 writers, including JM Coetzee, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Orhan Pamuk, wrote to Miliband, urging the government to seek information about the whereabouts of Matar and others.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


A flavour not unlike Saddam’s clowns being paraded in court
By Quentin Letts Last updated at 12:41 AM on 19th January 2010

While Tony Blair’s former ‘chief of staff ‘ Jonathan Powell was appearing at the Iraq Inquiry – were we not right, all along, to be suspicious of that swanky, American-style title? – the House of Lords was discussing diplomatic relations with Libya.

Lord Mandelson, who recently met one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons at a shooting party organised by Lord Rothschild, was on the Government front bench to hear the discussion.

Feline. Inscrutable. His crossed legs did not move even an eighth of an inch.

The reason Mr Blair’s approach to the Iraq War was so deadly, quite apart from all the unfortunate people who perished, was that it seems to have ignored the principle of diplomatic national interest. Instead Mr Blair may simply have taken a unilateral decision to support the United States, come what may. Where does that leave all the envoys and their finely calibrated minds, their brilliant calculations, their nipple-greased nuances? Does it make a nonsense of the whole apparatus of international diplomacy?

I’m afraid I couldn’t bear sitting through Ex-Chief of Staff Powell, though I noticed on telly that he is persisting with the beard and long hair he took to wearing soon after he left No 10. Psychoanalysts may have their own theories about this. The long list of former big-shots in the Blair regime giving evidence to the Iraq Inquiry leaves a flavour not unlike Saddam’s ex-clowns and mass murderers being paraded in that court in Baghdad.

The stuff in the Lords began with a question from Lord Lester (LibDem) to Lady Kinnock, Foreign Office Minister. Lord Lester wanted to know what the Government intended to do about alleged human rights abuses in

Libya, not least the continuing absence of official information about Jaballa Matar.

As I reported two Saturdays ago, Jaballa is the father of my friend Hisham Matar, a Booker-shortlisted British novelist. Jaballa was a Libyan opposition leader but is rumoured to have spent the last 20 years in prison. Word has just seeped out that he may still be alive.

Lady Kinnock did what Foreign Office ministers do. It’s the same thing international diplomats do. She spoke in a code which gave nothing particular away yet still managed, somehow, to convey an impression of concern and intent.

Lady Kennedy (Lab) was next up to press the case for British protests about Libyan brutality. Dear Lady Kennedy is never short of a word or two and banged on for ages about freedom of speech. ‘Too long!’ warbled some Tory peers, who plainly felt that freedom of speech is of limited appeal when it comes to Helena Kennedy.

The pressure continued, with Lord Avebury (LibDem) asking the Government to publish all the letters it has received from Libya. Lady D’Souza (crossbencher) and Lord Hunt, a Tory frontbencher, joined the fray. Lord Hunt demanded ‘ meaningful progress’.

Lady Kinnock, while not saying she thought the Gaddafi regime was terrible, hinted that Libya will not get far with the EU, when seeking better trade deals, until it comes clean about Jaballa Matar and other political prisoners. Well, maybe not. She denied that oil was a consideration but I’m not sure the House believed her.

Lord Foulkes (Lab) used the moment to make a faintly party political point about the release (by Scots Nationalists in Edinburgh) of the ‘Lockerbie bomber’ Megrahi.

Lord Foulkes is, let us note, one of the last Blairites. His question perhaps betrayed a mistrust of the Arab world, perhaps even a distaste for diplomatic give and take. But these little deals, the trading of favours and, sometimes, of principles, will surely outlive the Blairites.

First, there are too many highfalutin’ types involved in international relations to render them entirely redundant. Second, it is by compromise and negotiation, in the end, that a middling power such as our own achieves leverage. The Blairite approach to Iraq, by so denying diplomacy a chance, may have proved its value.

Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd

Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group


The Books Interview: Hisham Matar

Jonathan Derbyshire

Published 25 January 2010

Your father, Jaballa Matar, was abducted in 1990 and taken into detention in Libya. When did you last see him? He was abducted in March of that year. I last saw him the previous Christmas, when I went home to Cairo for a break.

You have recently had word that he may still be alive. Does this news come as a relief, a source of hope, or merely as a new kind of torment? It comes as both torment and hope. I think the problem with this situation is the inconclusive sense of grief. You don’t know one way or the other. And that’s much more difficult, on some level, than hearing the worst. So what has happened between 2001, which is when we first began to get wind of a massacre that had taken place in the Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli, and now is that the parameters have shifted somewhat. Hope endures, but so does the vagueness of the situation.

What kind of information have you had? I was contacted two years ago by a former prisoner who said he had seen my father at the high-security prison in Tripoli in 2002, after which this prisoner was moved to another facility. And he said that my father was frail but fine. I didn’t relay this information immediately to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty until I’d been able to get more information. I did some amateur journalism. Eventually, after 18 months, I felt this was more likely true than not. The information that he gave to me and to other people stacks up. So, we’re not 100 per cent certain that he’s alive – more like 70 or 80 per cent certain.

You’ve spoken several times to former inmates of Abu Salim Prison. What have they told you about conditions there? Abu Salim, in the early 1990s, was a bad place, but then it got worse after the riots that led to the massacre in 1996. The cells were about six metres by six metres, and some of them were occupied by about 25 people at a time. But my father, in one of his letters, told us that he was kept in isolation with one other prisoner, Izzat al-Maqrif, who disappeared from Egypt in the same way. We know from the letter, and from other sightings, that they were always kept together. They were taken in similar circumstances and assurances were given to the Egyptian government that they would not be seen, so they were kept in isolation.

What were the circumstances of the massacre? Because of the bad conditions I’ve described, some prisoners captured a prison guard and killed him, and then took control of a wing of the prison. That’s when other forces were sent in and the revolt was quashed. Much later, I heard from someone in the government that the original order was to destroy the whole prison, to bomb it. Gaddafi apparently got so angry after the revolt that he said the prison must be bombed. But Abu Salim is in the centre of Tripoli, and bombing it would have been a ridiculous move.

Together with English PEN, you have written to David Miliband urging the Foreign Office to intervene in your father’s case. What do you hope the upshot will be? I am hoping that they will use their new relationship with the Libyan regime, not only to establish the fate of my father, but also to demand significant improvements in Libya’s human rights record.

What was your reaction to the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi? It’s very hard to sum up how I feel about it. I’m not hot with conviction about his guilt, and whenever I see someone released, I think of my father. So, on some level, I thought of the day my father would come back to us.

And your next novel is about a man haunted by the absence of his father. Like all novelists, I’m interested in the filters between reality and the imagination. There’s something very bizarre about having a father who has disappeared. It’s very hard to articulate.The reason that we all think we know what it means to lose someone to death is that it’s such a familiar thing. But this is so unfamiliar and unexpected. I sometimes wonder if I would have become a writer if what happened to my father hadn’t happened.

“In the Country of Men” by Hisham Matar is published by Penguin (£7.99)————————————————————————————————-

The Observer home

Tutu presses Libya on jailed activist

Prominent dissident Jaballa Matar has been missing for nearly two decades

Jamie Doward home affairs editor

The Observer, Sunday 31 January 2010

Jaballa Matar’s son, the London-based novelist Hisham Matar, described Desmond Tutu’s statement as ‘extraordinary’. Photograph: Katherine Rose

One of the world’s most respected clerics is to put pressure on the Libyan government to reveal what it knows about a political activist who has been missing for almost two decades.

Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace prize winner and former Archbishop of Cape Town, has called on Muammar Gaddafi‘s regime to “urgently clarify the fate and whereabouts of Jaballa Matar, a prominent political dissident”. In a statement to be issued on Monday, Tutu notes that it is almost 20 years since Matar was abducted from Cairo and sent back to Libya.

Smuggled letters, written between 1992 and 1995, have revealed that Matar was being held in Abu Salim, a political prison in Tripoli. A Human Rights Watch Report released last year claimed Matar had been seen in a Tripoli high-security prison in 2002, giving free speech activists fresh hope that he may still be alive.

The family of Matar, who was one of Gaddafi’s most prominent opponents, has not seen him since the day he was abducted. “The terrible suffering and uncertainty that arises under these circumstances must be brought to an immediate end,” Tutu said.

Tutu’s intervention has given a major boost to Matar’s family. His son, the London-based novelist Hisham Matar, described the statement as “extraordinary”.

Last month a number of leading novelists, playwrights and lawyers added their names to an open letter to the foreign secretary, David Miliband, calling for the British government to take up Matar’s case with Libya.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


The Observer home

Hisham Matar’s fight to free his father

Novelist Hisham Matar has not seen his father since he was taken prisoner by Libyans in 1990. Could he still be alive?

Kate Kellaway

The Observer, Sunday 31 January 2010

In March 1990, when Libyan novelist Hisham Matar was studying architecture at Goldsmiths College, London, his parents were, as he describes it, in a “mellow” phase of their lives and living in Cairo. Whenever he rang them, they talked, “to my great delight”, about long walks, lazy lunches, reading books together. Hisham first gathered something was wrong when a Libyan contemporary at Goldsmiths shrank when he saw Hisham “as if ashamed” and asked: “Is your father OK?” He replied that his father was fine. The friend put his hand on Hisham’s arm and said: “Whatever happens, know I am here for you.”

Hisham rang the family home in a panic. His mother was judiciously vague on the telephone, saying only that he and his brother should come home soon. He remembers the sight of his mother in the airport’s arrivals lounge. She looked unlike herself, with hair pulled back, no make-up. She was wearing black (a colour she never wore but favours now). She told her sons that their father had been taken by the Egyptian secret service but that his parting words had been: “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.”

What his mother did not know – and would not find out until two years later when a letter from Hisham’s father was smuggled out – was that the Egyptian secret service had handed Jaballa Matar over to the Libyan police. He had been handcuffed, blindfolded, pushed into a car with newspapers over its windows and driven to Cairo airport. From there, he had been manhandled into a private jet and flown to Libya. His blindfold was only taken off at his destination: the notoriously barbaric Abu Salim jail.

Recently when Matar discovered that his father, who he had believed to be dead and has not seen for 20 years, might still be alive, the news was almost too good to bear. His family had feared that Jaballa Matar was one of 1,200 political prisoners shot, in 1996, in Abu Salim prison. It was through another political prisoner that they learnt that he had been seen alive (“frail but well”) in 2002. Now Hisham and his family are once again trying to manage hope – that most unmanageable emotion. And Hisham is putting all his energies into a campaign to release his father – or find out the truth about what happened to him.

Colonel Gadaffi and his bloody revolutionary committee were responsible for the abduction. It was a regime that could target anyone, on any whim, no questions asked or answered. As early as 1979, when the family were living in Tripoli, Jaballa was put on a list of people wanted for interrogation. “No one knew why except that he was wealthy, a member of the intelligentsia and had never expressed enthusiasm for the regime.” The latter was certainly true: Jaballa had worked for the United Nations in New York and, in 1973, had resigned in protest at the conduct of Gadaffi’s government. Then, when Hisham was three, Jaballa and his family – unwisely one might say with hindsight – returned to Libya where he became a successful entrepreneur (bringing Converse and Mitsubishi to the Middle East). They had a beautiful house, servants, several cars and a tremendous social life. But as soon as Jaballa was on Gadaffi’s list, Hisham’s mother knew they could not remain – the flight into Egypt followed a year later.

Once in Cairo, Jaballa became more outspoken in his opposition of Gadaffi’s dictatorship. “He believed Libya should be ruled by a democratic structure where the courts had a strong presence.” Hisham used to have “lively debates” with his father about politics and religion. Jaballa was a devout Muslim, Hisham a doubter. But his father was “unusually” tolerant of his views. Hisham reads aloud from his father’s last letter, written in 1995, which shows how much his faith mattered to him: “The cruelty of this place far exceeds all of what we know of the fortress prison of Bastille. The cruelty is in everything, but we remain stronger than their tactics of oppression… My forehead does not know how to bow. I am keeping steadfast with my faith and find shelter in its protection.” The letters are precious to the family. But the tape their father smuggled out was like “a bomb in my drawer”, Hisham says. He has listened to it only five times in 20 years: “It is very painful to hear his voice because you hear how alone he is – you can hear the echo in the room.”

Hisham has a face designed for the passing on of good news: cheerful, cherubic with jet-black curly hair. And he is jubilant about the latest development in his campaign – that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is to make a statement to the Libyan government urging his father’s release. At the same time, you can seen how continuing uncertainty wears him down – and affects everything. It even creeps into the language he uses: “Describing my father, there is a problem with tenses,” he says, hesitating between “was” or “is”. There is indecision about practical matters too. What to do with his father’s clothes? His mother has had a room built to store them (Jaballa was a dashing dresser – he liked Italian suits and good shoes). The room symbolises their predicament – a purgatorial waiting room. “Did you know that clothes shrink over time if they are not worn?” Hisham asks.

And has the memory of his father receded too? “The possibility that he is alive estranges him from me,” he says sadly. Does he think it is true that the disappeared vanish as characters when they become news? It is as if the enormity of what has happened to them dwarfs personality. What was his father actually like?

The enthusiasm with which Hisham sets about the task of answering this is touching. At first, he finds handfuls of adjectives… “affectionate”, “old-fashioned”, “warm”. To these, he adds “unreachable”. Then he homes in, with gaiety, on an anecdote – his father’s attempts to teach him to drive, aged eight – precocious age for a chauffeur – in an automatic Honda Civic. He used to beg his father to let him drive. Next, like a child’s patchy drawing, Hisham lists features – the outsize nose, the exceptionally beautiful hands, the short stature. Most of all, he remembers his father’s eyes: “I think of them as I knew them – looking at me in a gentle, comforting way.” Hisham has a gentle, comforting manner too. No wonder his father nicknamed him Sharh Elbal – “he who soothes the mind”.

There have been many times, over the last 20 years, when Hisham needed someone to soothe his mind. But he is modest about his sufferings and about how “ill” the early years made him. “I shifted violently between idealising my father and being angry with him,” he says. The hardest time of all was in the summer of 2002. Hisham had practised briefly as an architect but felt he had a “calling” as a novelist – and decided he would go to Paris. There he found himself a beautiful, sunny room. But he could not write. At his lowest ebb, walking by the river, he thought about killing himself. What he was experiencing was a vicarious captivity, a feeling he needed to join his father. It was partly the thought that despair would be the last thing his father wanted for him that saved him. And in 2006, In the Country of Men, the novel started in Paris, was shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Even now, Hisham is keen not to excite pity. At 40, he wants it to be clear he has a good life. He is married to Diana, an American-born photographer. He has “diverse” and supportive friends. And his mother and brother are surviving too. They “eat and laugh – my father’s photo is on the wall. My mother can get enjoyment from a new dress.” He hesitates: “It is just that there is a wire – a wire of grief across all this.”

If alive, Jaballa would be in his 70s. What might he be like? “I think about this every day. I prepare myself for the idea that we would be strangers, that we would have to start something new. I have an almost physical desire to take care of him. In many ways, the son becomes the father.” And as the son, Hisham is, in a sense, in the driving seat he once longed for, determined to steer straight, hoping his father will, one day, sit beside him.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010