Tuesday, 12 January 2016

‘I did not receive a fair trial’

[What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2008, recording an interview conducted with Abdelbaset Megrahi a few days earlier by Al-Quds al-Arabi:]
An interview with Megrahi
“On February 27, a Scottish court is expected to re-examine the Lockerbie case and hear the appeal submitted by Abd-al-Basit al-Miqrahi, the Libyan national convicted of involvement in the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over this Scottish district. Al-Miqrahi has been serving a life sentence in a prison in Glasgow - the largest city in Scotland - since being convicted of the bombing by an international court that was set up in the Netherlands.

“Many observers believe that Al-Miqrahi could soon leave prison and return to Libya now that Britain and Libya have signed an extradition treaty by which he would serve the rest of his sentence in his country. This is a known practice between countries, with the most prominent example being Chad's consent to allow the French nationals convicted of abducting some 100 children from Chad and Darfur to return to Paris and serve the rest of their sentences in a French prison.

Al-Quds al-Arabi visited Al-Miqrahi in his Scottish prison, located 40 kilometres from Glasgow. Entry procedures to the prison were normal and the guards were extremely gentle - we were not even physically searched. We were accompanied by Abd-al-Rahman al-Suwaysi, Libyan general consul in Scotland, and Algerian attorney Sa'd Jabbar. Al-Miqrahi entered the visitation room wearing a thick wool hat, jeans trousers, and a wool jersey, and he had clearly gained weight due to lack of activity.

“The words Al-Miqrahi kept repeating all the time were: ‘I did not receive a fair trial’ and that ‘several documents were withheld from the court.’ He laid out on the counter a file filled with paragraphs that had been suppressed, rather, entire pages had been blackened out to conceal information from the judge under the pretext of security considerations.

“Anyone visiting Al-Miqrahi will note his extremely high spirits, his unusual sturdiness, and his strong belief in his innocence of all the charges he was convicted of. He would smile every now an then, especially when talking about the letters he had received from Scots who wished him happy holidays, believed in his innocence, and expressed solidarity with him. Al-Miqrahi said: ‘A victim's family wrote to me, saying that on behalf of the citizens of Scotland, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.’

“I asked Al-Miqrahi: ‘What about the Arabs?’ He replied sadly: ‘I have not received a single letter from an Arab, but I have received 27 letters from Scots …’

“He went on to say that Dr Swire, dean of the families of the victims, visited him in prison, as did Reverend John Reef [sic; probably means Rev John Mosey, father of one of the victims] and a number of other people, not to mention the Libyan consul, who visits him on a regular basis. Al-Miqrahi follows events in the Arab world through the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya channels, which he has been allowed to watch in his small cell, measuring no more than 2 by 1.5 meters. One day, a Scottish inmate visited him as he watched Opposite Direction in which the argument was in full swing; the inmate asked if he could understand what was being said, to which Al-Miqrahi said: ‘I can if you can.’

“Al-Miqrahi said that what touched him the most was the martyrdom of child Muhammad al-Durah and his father's desperate attempts to protect him, and added that the image of Muhammad and his father never leave him. Asked about his own children, he said that what pains him the most is that the Scottish Government refused to let them reside near his prison. He went on to say that he longs for them, and that he is especially saddened when his young son asks: ‘When are you coming back dad? You promised us many times that you would return soon.’

“He spoke affectionately and admiringly of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who had visited him in prison, saying that Mandela refused to be accompanied by any British official when he visited him in his prison in Scotland. He added that Mandela also called him when he was visiting the Netherlands because his Dutch hosts had told him that he cannot visit him in prison as it would be a breach of protocol. Al-Miqrahi said that he wrote to many Arab leaders telling them that he wants a free trial, but that none of them replied, not even to humour him.

“We asked Consul Abd-al-Rahman if he would remain in his post if Al-Miqrahi is transferred to Libya as expected, to which he said that he would not stay a single day because the consulate was originally opened in order to care for Al-Miqrahi and provide him with all means of comfort. For his part, attorney Sa'd Jabbar, who sat in on the visit, said that the Libyan Government exerted immense pressures on the British Government to retry or deport Al-Miqrahi - pressures that included a suspension of trade agreements. He expected Al-Miqrahi to return very soon.

“Al-Miqrahi said that he would return to Libya because he misses his homeland and family, but that he wants to return an innocent man, not a convicted one, adding that he is confident that any free trial would exonerate him of the charges brought against him. His eyes filled with tears of anguish. Asked about food and whether he misses Bazin, Mabkakah, Isban, and Kuskusi, and he said: ‘I miss a lot of these foods even though the consulate supplied me with daily meals throughout the month of Ramadan, but food is not important, freedom and innocence, however, are.’

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