Tomorrow (21 May) will see the first court hearing in the case brought by a Gaddafi opponent against the UK Government over its part in ‘rendering’ him – along with his pregnant wife – to Libya in 2004.
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were detained while in exile in China and flown to Gaddafi’s prisons by a joint UK-US-Libyan intelligence operation. Mr Belhaj then faced years of torture until eventually being released in 2010.
The couple are bringing legal action against the UK Government, following the discovery of documents in the office of Gaddafi’s spy chief in which MI6’s Sir Mark Allen said that “the intelligence on [Mr Belhaj] was British,” and that “this was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years.”
Sir Mark is also a defendant in the case, along with former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is alleged to have signed off on the rendition operation.
Mr Belhaj recently offered to settle the case in return for an apology and a token payment of £1 from each defendant – however, this offer was not accepted. As a result, the case is continuing, with tomorrow seeing the first hearing taking place in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court in London.
Kat Craig, Legal Director of Reprieve said: “We already know that our government was involved in kidnapping Gaddafi’s opponents – along with their wives and young children – and sending them back to his torture chambers. This went hand-in-hand with Tony Blair’s ‘deal in the desert’ with Gaddafi and is one of the most shameful episodes of Britain’s involvement in the ‘War on Terror.’ Yet ministers are making it worse by fighting in the courts. This is not about money. The Government could have ended this months ago by admitting what they did, apologising and paying £1.”
Sapna Malik, from law firm Leigh Day said: “This case should be held as soon as possible and must not be left to drag on over a number of years at vast expense to the British taxpayer. The spurious preliminary issues raised by the government will only serve to delay the inevitable embarrassment those accused will undoubtedly face.”