Doha Debates, The: Series 6

The Doha Debates: This House Deplores the Release of the Lockerbie Bomber to Libya

Daniel Kawczynski, British politician FOR
Mustafa Fetouri, Libyan academic and writer AGAINST
Guma El-Gamaty, Libyan researcher and writer FOR
Jim Swire, Father of a Lockerbie victim AGAINST

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Deep international divisions over the premature release of the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing were reflected starkly at the start of the sixth series of Doha Debates. In one of the closest results recorded at the debates, the audience of 350 was split 53 per cent for to 47 per cent against a motion deploring the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, last August. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, was one of 270 people killed on the Pan Am Flight over Scotland, argued passionately against the motion in a plea for forgiveness which drew loud applause. Dr. Swire, who has led a campaign for justice on behalf of the victims’ UK relatives, said he was “delighted by (al-Megrahi’s) release” since he believed he was innocent and that the people behind the bombing were still at large. He said he was aware that his position might “make the grieving process more difficult” for some of the victims’ relatives, but it would have been a mistake to allow al-Megrahi to die in jail a martyr. A number of questions from the audience reflected public concern at international double standards that turned a blind eye to Libya jailing thousands of people without trial and allowed America to do the same with prisoners in Guantanamo. To loud applause one member of the audience said: “Thousands of Libyans who have never had a day in court remain in jail. Has the Gaddafi regime ever released one single prisoner on the same compassionate grounds that allowed al-Magrahi to go free?” Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan political commentator and university professor, also opposed the motion, suggesting that al-Megrahi’s release was as much for compassionate reasons as for the flaws in the case against him. “This man spent eight years of his life in jail for a crime in which he never took part,” Dr. Fetouri said. Guma El-Gamaty, a Libyan writer and frequent critic of the Tripoli regime, said that it had been “wrong to give in to the political and economic blackmail of a totalitarian regime.” El-Gamaty, who has lived in Britain for more than 30 years, said while he agreed that al-Megrahi had probably been used by “the system” as a scapegoat, he had puzzlingly wasted an opportunity to prove his innocence by dropping his appeal. “He missed a golden opportunity to have his case heard again and clear his name forever,” thus throwing his innocence into doubt. Furthermore, his release on compassionate grounds appeared absurd when one considers that “Scotland would have the best medical care for his condition and that his children, who had lived close to the jail for years, could have visited him there.” Daniel Kawczynski, a Conservative MP and Chairman of the All Parliamentary Groups for Libya and Saudi Arabia, was adamant that al-Magrahi should not have been released without any form of concession by Tripoli in bringing the April 1984 murderers of the PC Yvonne Fletcher to justice. “If we are to build a long lasting partnership with Libya it must be done on the basis of mutual respect. We should be pursuing the case of Yvonne Fletcher and asking why the Libyans are still obstructing the London metropolitan police in their investigations.”