How must the events unfolding in Libya look to exiles? Today I met Jalal Shammam, a Libyan exile who was protesting outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 when someone inside opened fire. In an interview for the PM programme he told me how WPC Yvonne Fletcher protected him and other students — she took five bullets. He was shot twice. Other protestors were also wounded. He told me he felt there was little interest in getting his testimony during the original investigation.
Though he still looks young, Shamaam is about 50. He’s spent the prime of his life in exile, and has had sporadic contact with his family in Benghazi, as he says the Gaddafi regime were bugging phones, and threatening relatives there.
He has two concerns. Firstly, suspicion about how new the evidence is of the named suspect that the government’s said it’s pursuing with the new Libyan transitional council. But also his horror at how successful British governments did business with the Colonel despite WPC Fletcher’s murder, Lockerbie and other terrorist atrocities. He described the day Tony Blair met Gaddafi as “the worst day of my life”.
Shammam says he’s been protesting outside the Libyan embassy every day for several months and believes many Gaddafi loyalists are still running it. He claimed he and other Libyan dissidents have been harrassed, followed and threatened and that the ousted Ambassador was a scapegoat, while the goons are still in situ.
I was one of many people who tweeted this photograph of the new door mat at the Libyan embassy in London a few days ago. Since the interview today I’m more conscious of the power of simple PR stunts.
While it’s inevitable that the new government will include many formally loyal to the Gaddafi regime, Jalal Shammam’s testimony is a sobering reminder of a hidden human cost of regime change. He does hope to go back home to Libya soon. For the first time in 28 years.
You can listen to the interview here till September 3rd. It’s in the last 5 minutes of the programme.
Further reading: Former Prime Minister John Major defends Blair’s handshake with Gaddafi (BBC interview May 2011)