7 March 2004
Abdel Hakim Belhaj was a Libyan dissident belonging to an organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which though banned in Libya was not considered to be a terrorist organization by the British. He had fled Libya to China where he hoped to to be beyond the reach of Gadaffi’s security forces. However he and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, began to feel unsafe in China and decided to apply for asylum in the UK, and attempted to board a commercial flight from Beijing to London. However, at Beijing airport they were arrested and deported to Kuala Lumpur and the British security services soon became aware of their detention in Malaysia.
At the time, Tony Blair was attempting to strike a deal with Libyan dictator Gadaffi to open up his country and its enormous oil wealth to British business, and it seemed that delivering Abdel Hakim Belhaj back to Libya would help to curry favour with the regime. So on 7 March 2004, MI6 arranged for Belhaj and Bouchar to be put first on a commercial transport plane to Bangkok, then separated and forcibly flown back to Tripoli. They both recall being hooded and bound tightly to a stretcher. On arrival back in Libya they were both detained and tortured. While Bouchar was only held for a short period, Belhaj was detained first at Tajoura prison and then the Abu Salim prison where he was kept in complete isolation and routinely beaten by the guards. He was finally released in March 2010, but it was only with the Arab Spring uprising in Libya in 2011 that documents revealing the British government’s role in his rendition and torture were uncovered.
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