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Tortured Libya man wins right to sue UK government

Image of Abdelhakim Belhaj [Tounes24/Facebook]
Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj  [Tounes24/Facebook]

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and a retired intelligence officer could be sued over allegations of abduction and torture by Abdelhakim Belhaj, a Libyan dissident who fought the regime of toppled dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

In a ruling today, the British Supreme Court upheld a verdict by the Court of Appeal to allow Belhaj’s action against Straw and former MI6 agent, Sir Mark Allen. The Supreme Court’s decision has now paved the way for Belhaj to seek justice for his extraordinary rendition and torture allegedly facilitated by the British government.

Belhaj, 50, claims MI6 under Straw helped the United States to abduct him in Asia in 2004 in order to return him to be tortured in Tripoli.

Straw, amongst other parties, rejects Belhaj’s claims that he had been aware of the extraordinary rendition. However lawyers representing Belhaj say he is determined to sue unless he receives an official apology and a token £1 in damages.

As well as Straw, Belhaj’s case is also against former MI6 official Allen, the UK security services, the Foreign Office and the Home Office, who have all denied liability.

Belhaj, who was one of the main leaders of the Arab Spring uprising against former Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi, says he was abducted along with his pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar,when they were attempting to fly to London to claim asylum.

They were then forcibly returned to Libya where Belhaj spent six years in jail and under torture. His wife was released before giving birth.

“As foreign secretary I acted at all times in a manner which was fully consistent with my legal duties and with national and international law,” Straw said in a statement.

“I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of anyone by other states.”

In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices said that the severity of the allegations had to be heard before a British court because of the likelihood they would not be heard elsewhere in the world.

Following the fall of Gaddafi, documents were retrieved in Tripoli which Belhaj used for his damages case in which he alleges he was questioned by British intelligence officers during his detention in Libya.

The papers also show that, in 2004, MI6 communicated with the Libyan regime over Belhaj’s fate after he fled the country.

In one of the documents obtained, MI6’s former head of counterterrorism, Sir Mark Allen, informed a Libyan intelligence official that Belhaj’s capture in Bangkok had only been possible thanks to British intelligence.

Lawyers for the government had argued that Belhaj and Boudchar were not able to sue because of a long-standing legal principle that prevents British courts examining the actions of other states carried out in their own jurisdictions.

The Supreme Court justices dismissed the government’s attempts to stop the case going to trial, stating that the Magna Carta was on the side of Belhaj and his wife.

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