- A Libyan court has sentenced an Internet journalist to one-and-a-half years in prison after he published articles critical of the government. After more than four months of incommunicado detention, a Tripoli court two weeks ago convicted the Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri on charges of illegally possessing a handgun, it was known today.
The 19 October sentence of Mr al-Mansuri was only made known today, following research by the US group Human Rights Watch. The group, which has followed the case of the Libyan Internet dissident for a long time, in a statement today said that the sentence "is an apparent attempt by the government to silence free speech and dissenting views."
The family of Mr al-Mansuri in Libya has written a letter to the Libyan government and local and international media and human rights organisations, boldly denouncing the arrest and sentence. Such outspoken criticism is rare in Libya and the family risks legal action.
The letter said, "we the writer, Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri’s family, will continue our son's march, for he always wanted for everyone to eliminate fear. If he could not affect the people closest to him, his family, how could he affect others?"
On 12 January, the Tripoli government arrested Mr al-Mansuri, 52, in his hometown of Tobruk. Over the previous year, he had written some 50 articles and commentaries critical of Libyan society and government for a UK-based website, www.akhbar-libya.com.
Because the Libyan government strictly controls the media, the Internet has become an important source of independent news for Libyans. Dozens of websites based abroad provide a forum for open debate.
The entire court case against Mr al-Mansuri has been criticised as bogus. "The gun charges are a ruse," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. "The authorities went after al-Mansuri because they did not like what he wrote."
Representatives of the US group had visited Mr al-Mansuri on 5 May in Tripoli's Abu Selim prison. He then told the human rights activists that the Internal Security Agency agents who arrested him had confiscated his computer, papers, floppy and compact discs.
At the Internal Security Agency's headquarters in Tobruk, Mr al-Mansuri was questioned about articles he had written, he said. They searched his home the next day, and found an old pistol that belonged to his father. In May, he told Human Rights Watch that he was still unaware of any formal charges against him, and he had not had contact with a lawyer or his family.
Colonel Tuhami Khaled, head of Libya's Internal Security Agency, which deals with political and security crimes, in May stated that he was responsible for Mr al-Mansuri's arrest. "This man was not arrested for an article, or the Internet, or the radio," Mr Khaled said. "He was arrested because he had a gun without a license."
The letter from Mr al-Mansuri's family however insists that his arrest resulted from his journalistic work. A brother who spoke with security agents said they told him that Mr al-Mansuri had confessed to his crime, "writing articles online that criticised the state of Libya."
The agents found the old pistol, the family said, during a second search of the home that took place after Mr al-Mansuri's arrest. His family had no contact with him until he called them on 28 May, the day the Internal Security Agency transferred him to the custody of the public prosecutor.
The trial began in late summer, the family said, but was twice postponed. First, Mr al-Mansuri's lawyer asked for an extension to prepare a defense. Then, the court postponed the trial because Mr al-Mansuri was hospitalised for a broken pelvis he sustained after falling from his top bunk in prison.
On 19 October, a Tripoli court sentenced Mr al-Mansuri to one-and-a-half years in prison. According to the family, the court refused to give him credit for the four months of incommunicado detention by the Internal Security Agency.
His family said Libyan authorities have asked them to denounce Mr al-Mansuri as mentally deranged. "If defending the right to free speech and asking for basic human rights is insane in our country, then welcome to a family that is, from its oldest to its youngest, insane," their letter said.
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