Ahmed Shami, officially assigned the file of Libyan prisoners in Iraq by the Libyan state, was arrested by Iraqi authorities on October 18th after seeing off the representative of the Arab League (LAS) in Baghdad, Naji Shalgham.

Ahmed Shami, officially assigned the file of Libyan prisoners in Iraq by the Libyan state, was arrested by Iraqi authorities on October 18th after seeing off the representative of the Arab League (LAS) in Baghdad, Naji Shalgham.


Ahmed Shami

Reasons for the arrest of Shami, who is a human rights activist and heads the World Foundation for Human Rights (WFHR) that was founded early 2012 in Tripoli, are still unknown. Some think it is due to his clout in releasing Libyan prisoners and his success in the release of five out of 16 prisoners.  Others believe it is a reaction to the kidnapping of seven Iranians on July 31st in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city.

The issue is questionable for many, especially for Shami’s family, which finds it strange, and blames the Libyan state because it has failed to pursue the case, according to Hamza, Shami’s middle child.

Breach of immunity

“How could a person representing his state and responsible for protecting its interests and those of its nationals be arrested in such a way without regard to his political position and the prestige of his state?” Hamza asked.

Shami, according to Hamza, called his family on the first day of Greater Bairam (Muslim festival) told them he was transferred to the old central prison, and that Iraqi intelligence charged him with four crimes, punishable by execution.”

“We find it strange that the Iraqi authorities have arrested my father, while everyone knows that diplomats and human rights activists are protected as provided for in international conventions and treaties,” he added.

Silent authorities

Hamza also expressed his family’s surprise toward the Libyan authorities’ silence and refraining of his father’s case.  Hamza believes their reaction has been limited to statements only, with no “direct interest.”

Hamza says that the family has contacted the LAS Ambassador in Baghdad, Naji Shalgham and also President of the Libyan General National Congress, Mohammed Magariaf, who has assured them that a high-level Libya delegation will meet Iraqi officials to resolve the dispute about what happened to his father.

Hamza also says he has recently contacted the Bar Association and learned that his father appeared in an Iraqi court on November 8, but the trial was adjourned for unknown reasons.

Punished for his work

Faraj Qaba’eli, one of the five prisoners whom Shami helped in releasing from Iraqi prisons, says Sami’s arrest might be “a reaction to kidnapping the delegation of the Iranian Red Crescent Society in Benghazi.”

The Iranian delegation, composed of seven people working with civil institutions, was kidnapped during a visit to the Red Crescent Society in Benghazi. However, the delegation was released and left Libya on October 5th.

Qaba’eli has suggested that Shami is popular amongst not only Libyan prisoners but also the majority of Arab prisoners, stressing that he met him several times and made great efforts to release Libyan prisoners in Iraq and help some Arab prisoners during his five months in Iraq.


Human rights activist and founder of February 17 Coalition, Abdulsalam Mismari, believes that the arrest of Shami is unjustified. The Iraqi government, he says, “is required to immediately release him, not only as a head of a human rights organization, but also because he was likely arrested to hinder his efforts in pursuing the file of Libyan prisoners in Iraq.”

“Libyan authorities have to move and put pressure on the Iraqi government to release Shami,” he said.

He also demands that the Libyan state take a more serious attitude than just  timid statements about sending a delegation to meet Iraqi officials. It is unacceptable to expose Shami to actions similar to “forced sending away, especially that the reasons for his arrest are still unknown,” he said.


Statements and convictions issued by the Arab League and human rights organizations, such as Libyan Observatory for Human Rights, WFHR – headed by Shami himself – the Arab Organization for Human Rights, etc., are insufficient since they are made as a mere “duty”, as Mismari put it.

For his part, human rights activist Mahmoud Ali believes that through the arrest of Shami, the Iraqi government seeks to thwart the negotiation file of releasing the remaining prisoners. “It seems that certain bodies put pressure on the Iraqi government, especially after the events of the U.S. Embassy, since the majority of Libyan prisoners are from Benghazi where the American ambassador was murdered on September 11th,” Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud believes that the silence of the Libyan Foreign Ministry has the same objectives. “Its performance is a complete failure like the former government of Abdel-Rahim Kape”, says Mahmoud who also hopes the new Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, does something in this regard.

Timid statements

The Foreign Ministry says efforts are being made by the Libyan authorities to release Dr. Shami soon, and its spokesman Saad Shalmani says that Minister Ashour Bin Khayal – whose tenure ended upon the formation of the new government – had written a message to the Iraqi authorities demanding the release of Shami.

Shalmani says a Libyan delegation headed by Suleiman Fortia, who was responsible for the file of Libyan prisoners in Iraq during the rule of the National Transitional Council, will soon travel to Baghdad to discuss the case of Shami with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Exchange of convicts

Before negotiating the release of the Libyan prisoners in Iraq for five months, Shami, accompanied by Libyan activists and officials, made several visits to Baghdad. The Libyan Humanitarian Communication Society was present during one of those visits. Abdullah Wafi, a university professor and member of the society, says the delegation, during a visit to Baghdad, met Prime Minister, al-Maliki, and the Minister of Justice, Hassan Shummari.

He explained that their mission of accessing the prisoners and learning about their conditions inside the ‘Nassiriyah’ Prison, which includes the largest number of Libyan prisoners with sentences of 5-15 years, was facilitated. “We asked the Iraqi authorities”, says Wafi, “to improve conditions and treatment of prisoners pursuant to the standards and laws of the United Nations and human rights. We were able to stop the implementation of death sentences against a Libyan prisoner.”

An agreement to exchange convicts between Libya and Iraq is expected to enter into force during the coming period, Wafi concluded.

Shami has been in detention for more than a month, and human rights associations and organizations are still trying to support his family and pressure the government to secure his release. Until a negotiating delegation is sent or the convict exchange agreement takes effect, the fate of the human rights activist is still unknown, subject to the government’s long awaited action.