Will Justice be Served? Will Al-Megrahi be Released from Prison Soon?
By Zainab Al-Arabi
Yes I know that this week the eyes and ears of the world are concentrated on America and the new President-elect, Barack Obama; that the United Nations and various human rights organisations are calling for help concerning the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But my thoughts are with Abdul Basit Al-Megarhi, the Libyan man wrongly convicted of mass murder in the Lockerbie case, who has been in prison since 1999.
The news that he has been diagnosed with advanced-stage prostate cancer has stunned many Libyans. For years his appeals for a re-examination of the evidence against him had been refused, and only last year was this even considered a possibility.
The case for a re-trial is strongly put forward by many experts in the field of law, perhaps the most eminent of whom is Professor Robert Black (born and raised in Lockerbie, Scotland). Often referred to as the architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, he has been sceptical of the grounds on which the court delivered its sentence for years.
Based on his assessment of the evidence and the witnesses, he is convinced that a gross miscarriage of justice has taken place. This seemed to be more evident when a British court ruled in early 2008, in answer to a request by the Appeals Court in October, 2007, that certain documents deliberately withheld from Al-Megarhi’s defence lawyers by the prosecution, could not be released due to reasons of ‘National Security’.
Finally in October 2008, the defence lawyers request for a hearing was approved. The next hearing in the High Court in Edinburgh is planned to take place on the 21st of November 2008. On the question of whether Al-Megarhi has the right to be released on bail while his case is under review by the Scottish court, Professor Black (on his website) answers,” yes.
What matters is whether the grounds of appeal (1) if successful, would lead to the conviction being quashed and (2) are arguable, i.e. not on the face of it doomed to failure. These tests are clearly satisfied in cases, such as Abdelbaset Megrahi’s, where an independent expert body (the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission) has referred the case to the Criminal Appeal Court on the ground that the conviction may have amounted to a miscarriage of justice.”
Al-Megarhi has requested that the privacy of his family be respected, and that he would prefer to undergo medical treatment in Scotland if exonerated. The Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs has reportedly also informed Libya on the 25th of October that it would welcome Al-Megarhi for medical treatment on his release.
The Swiss company, Mebo Ltd, the makers of the device allegedly used in the Lockerbie bombing, have their own ‘Lockerbie’ website in which they call Al-Megarhi the ‘271st Lockerbie victim’.
Their claim is that the evidence produced by the prosecution was misleading and false.
In his most recent comment on the subject, “The Scotsman” reported on 7 July 2007 that the United Nations observer Dr. Hans Köchler has written to Mr. Salmond and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary of Scotland, calling for experts from countries not involved in the case to investigate the way the investigation was conducted by UK and US authorities.
In his letter, Dr. Köchler called for a full and independent public inquiry of the Lockerbie case and its handling by the Scottish judiciary as well as the British and US political and intelligence establishments.
He also called for the SCCRC’s full report to be made public. Although he was included in talks regarding prisoner exchange between Libya and Britain, Al-Megarhi has refused to leave his prison in Scotland until his innocence was proven.
According to Jim Swire, spokesman for the UK Family Group, whose daughter was among the victims of the Lockerbie tragedy, stated that the families of the UK victims agreed that Al-Megarhi should be released for compassionate reasons whatever the outcome of SCCRC hearing.
Even though they might not all be convinced of his innocence, they saw no reason to keep a dying man in prison far from his country and family.
Dr.Swire has been to Libya on several occasions and has stated that he is not convinced of the court’s sentencing. He has continued to press the British government for a new investigation. Will justice be served?