Rice says will discuss dissident with Gaddafi

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she would discuss the plight of ailing detained dissident Fathi el-Jahmi with Muammar Gaddafi during a historic meeting with the Libyan leader later on Friday.

Jahmi, a former provincial governor who has been detained for four years, was transferred earlier this year from prison to a medical centre where he is being treated for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“Of course I will raise the case,” Rice told reporters traveling with her to Tripoli on the first visit to Libya by a U.S. secretary of state since 1953.

“It’s just important that he be released, not as a goodwill gesture, but it is (simply) important that he be released.”

Jahmi was first arrested in 2002 after he criticized Gaddafi and called for open elections, a free press and the release of political prisoners. A court sentenced him to five years.

On March 1, 2004, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden — now the Democratic vice presidential candidate — met Gaddafi and called for Jahmi’s release. Nine days later, an appeals court gave Jahmi a suspended sentence of one year and ordered his release on March 12.

However, Jahmi was rearrested later that month after he gave more interviews repeating his criticisms. He was charged with trying to overthrow the government, insulting Gaddafi and contacting foreign authorities including Western diplomats.

On the question of Jahmi being jailed in part because of meeting Western diplomats, Rice said: “Of course it is disturbing and I will raise it.”

Jahmi’s brother Mohamed El-Jahmi, who lives in the United States near Boston, said Rice was wrong to see Gaddafi while his brother, a former provincial governor, was held in a “bugged, cockroach-ridden” hospital room.

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