Embargoed until August 6, 2009
The Lockerbie case: prisoner transfer or prisoner release?
How to reconcile the requirements of the rule of law and the imperatives of humanity
Interview of Dr. Hans Köchler, UN-appointed international observer at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, for BBC Newsnight
Vienna/ London, 6 August 2009
In an interview with the BBC’s Glenn Campbell for the Newsnight programme, Dr. Hans Köchler has reiterated his call for compassionate release of Mr. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the only person convicted in the Lockerbie case. Unlike a prisoner transfer, this measure will allow the Lockerbie appeal to continue, which is in the interest not only of the appellant (Mr. Al Megrahi), but of all those, first and foremost the families of the victims, who are committed to the search for the truth and who want to find out which individuals and organizations were actually responsible for the midair explosion of flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.
Dr. Köchler made clear that he would not be in favour of the Scottish Justice Secretary granting compassionate release to Mr. Al Megrahi if he would not be convinced that the Libyan citizen is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and, thus, is not guilty as charged.
He referred to his earlier reports on the trial and (first) appeal proceedings at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands in which he had explained that the judicial process was not fair and that the “Opinions of the Court” issued by the judges in 2001 and 2002 respectively were inconsistent and almost entirely based on – often dubious – circumstantial evidence.
The dilemma now faced by Mr. Al Megrahi and the Scottish authorities would never have arisen if the judicial review had been carried out in a timely fashion, Dr. Köchler said. More than five years have elapsed between the end of the first appeal (in March 2002) and the decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to refer Mr. Al Megrahi’s case back to the appeal court (in June 2007). More than two years (!) after the SCCRC decision, the second appeal is still in its incipient stage. The delaying tactics are obvious in the scheduling of the hearings (with intervals of several months between sessions) and in the appeal judges’ not replacing a colleague who has fallen ill, instead preferring to wait until his recovery some time in September. The appellant (Mr. Al Megrahi) who is reported to be in the last stage of a deadly illness is nonetheless confronted with the alternative of either giving up his second appeal (and return to Libya on the basis of the provisions of a “prisoner exchange agreement”) or eventually to die in a Scottish prison. This is a situation of “emotional blackmail” which is unacceptable, Dr. Köchler explained.
In his conversation with the BBC’s Glenn Campbell, Dr. Koechler made clear that, unlike “prisoner exchange” on the basis of a recent bilateral agreement between the UK and Libya, “compassionate release” according to Scots law would not violate the international obligations of the United Kingdom resulting from the original arrangements for the trial and detention of the Lockerbie suspects. While in the former case, the remainder of the prison term would be served outside of Scotland (which would be in technical violation of the original commitment), in the latter case (“compassionate release”) the issue is not a change of place for serving a prison term, but a release from prison on humanitarian grounds. There is no provision in the relevant international agreement that excludes such a measure.
Dr. Köchler said that it is absolutely essential that the appeal go ahead and that, by granting compassionate release, Scotland’s Justice Secretary can reconcile the requirements of the rule of law and the imperatives of humanity.
International Progress Organization