Government urges court to reject Libya rendition case

Abdul-Hakim Belhaj
Image caption Abdul-Hakim Belhaj was a leading opponent of former Libyan leader Col Gaddafi

The UK government is trying to prevent a former Libyan dissident and his wife seeking damages over its alleged role in their rendition to Tripoli in 2004.

Abdul-Hakim Belhaj claims to have proof of MI6's role in their mistreatment.

They are suing former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Sir Mark Allen, ex-head of counter-terrorism at MI6.

But lawyers for the government told the High Court the case should be stopped because the claims could not be heard by a British court.

Mr Belhaj, a leading opponent of former Libyan president Colonel Gaddafi, was in hiding in early 2004 in east Asia when, he says, he and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, were abducted.

The couple claim the UK facilitated this abduction because MI6 shared intelligence with the Libyans and the US over the couple's whereabouts.

They accuse Mr Straw of either authorising the operation or failing to stop it, including permitting the rendition flight to refuel at the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia.

'Black site'

At the heart of the case are documents discovered in the former headquarters of one of Libya's secret intelligence agencies as the Gaddafi regime was falling in 2011.

Lawyers for the pair say they include faxes sent in March 2004 from MI6 to their counterparts in Tripoli which detail Mr Belhaj's whereabouts after he and his wife had been deported from China to Malaysia.

The couple were initially held in Kuala Lumpur before being told they would be put on a flight to the UK, via Bangkok.

But the High Court was told that the second flight was organised to ensure the pair ended up in a secret CIA "black site" prison in Thailand, before being flown on to Tripoli.

Mr Belhaj, now a minister in the Libyan government, says that in Bangkok they were detained by American intelligence and he was tortured while his pregnant wife was chained to a wall.

When they got to Tripoli, he spent six years in jail and his wife was released shortly before giving birth.

The documents also allegedly include a message said to have been sent by Sir Mark Allen, congratulating Col Gaddafi's security chief on the "on the safe arrival" of Mr Belhaj.

"This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years," it reads. "The intelligence was British. I know that I did not pay for the air cargo."

False imprisonment

But Rory Phillips QC, for the government, told the High Court the case should be stopped because the alleged wrongdoing was carried out overseas by foreign powers.

He also said it was not suggested that either claimant had any connection with the UK.

"The [case] makes no allegations that any UK officials mistreated any of the claimants," he said. "It's not alleged that any mistreatment took place in the UK or UK-held territories.

"None of the claims advanced against the defendants is capable of amounting to an allegation of unlawful conduct unless the foreign powers… acted unlawfully and had been found to have done so."

As well as Mr Straw and Sir Mark, Mr Belhaj is also suing the Home Office, the Foreign Office, MI5, MI6 and the attorney general.

Each of these, according to Mr Belhaj's lawyers, abused their public office and was responsible for his false imprisonment.

The hearing is expected to last three days.

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