UPDATE: For Dissidents, Libya Grim as Ever : The Bryant Park Project Book Club: For dissidents, Libya still as grim as ever.
NPR logo UPDATE: For Dissidents, Libya Grim as Ever

UPDATE: For Dissidents, Libya Grim as Ever

Former Libyan political prisoner Fathi al-Jahmi Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Our inaugural BPP Book Club selection, Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men, is set in Libya in 1979, a time when the country was ostracized by much of the international community.

In the last couple of years, though, the United States has reestablished full diplomatic relations with Libya, responding to Muammar Qaddafi's pledge to give up his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, as well as his sponsorship of international terrorism.

But what is the situation like for dissidents inside Libya? For some, at least, it is as grim as ever, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Take the case of Fathi al-Jahmi, a 66-year-old Libyan who was imprisoned for, among other things, calling for free elections in Libya. Initially arrested in 2002, al-Jahmi is said by authorities to finally have been released this week.

Here's what the HRW website had on his case:

Internal security forces first arrested al-Jahmi, a former provincial governor, on October 19, 2002, after he criticized the government and Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi, calling for the abolition of al-Qadhafi's Green Book, free elections in Libya, a free press, and the release of political prisoners. A court sentenced him to five years in prison.

On March 1, 2004, US Senator Joseph Biden met al-Qadhafi and called for al-Jahmi's release. Nine days later, an appeals court gave al-Jahmi a suspended sentence of one year and ordered his release on March 12.

That same day, al-Jahmi gave an interview to US-funded al-Hurra television, in which he repeated his call for Libya's democratization. He gave another interview to the station four days later, in which he called al-Qadhafi a dictator and said, "All that is left for him to do is hand us a prayer carpet and ask us to bow before his picture and worship him."

Two weeks later, on March 26, security agents arrested al-Jahmi, his wife and their eldest son. The Internal Security Agency detained them in an undisclosed location for six months, without access to relatives or lawyers. The authorities released al-Jahmi's son on September 23, 2004 and his wife on November 4.

The Internal Security Agency has held al-Jahmi in detention ever since. The head of the agency told Human Rights Watch in 2005 that al-Jahmi was being held in a special facility for his own protection and because he is "mentally disturbed."

Since authorities announced his release, al-Jahmi has reportedly been in a Tripoli hospital. On Tuesday, his family was disputing that he was free. "The family has normal access to Fathi but he remains in detention. He cannot even walk outside his room," his youngest brother, Mohamed, told Reuters. "His legs are swollen and he needs exercise but he is being kept in a sedentary position."