Rita Trichur and Stephanie Chambers

A former Libyan ambassador to Canada who remains imprisoned in his home country pleaded with Ottawa to reunite him with his Ontario-based wife and children in the months leading up to his arrest last year.

Fathi Baja – Libya’s top envoy in Ottawa from 2013 to 2017 – was trying to immigrate to Canada when he was detained by the Internal Security Agency in Benghazi on Oct. 1.

More than four months later, Mr. Baja is still not charged with any crime and is in failing health, according to his relatives in Canada. They say he remains incarcerated for political reasons because he criticized the ruling regime.

“The situation is not good at all,” said his second-born son, Yousif Baja. “They are trying to kill him. They are trying to keep him in there until he dies.”

Months before his arrest, the elder Mr. Baja divulged to The Globe and Mail that he was safeguarding documents pertaining to the billions of dollars the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi stashed in Canadian bank accounts and to a Toronto penthouse owned by his son, Saadi Gadhafi.

A critic of the former Gadhafi regime, Mr. Baja said he kept the cache of documents after leaving Ottawa because he was worried the money and luxury property could fall into the hands of corrupt officials.

He was imprisoned on the orders of Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, head of Libya’s eastern forces, and those of his son Saddam Haftar, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Globe is not identifying the source, who was not authorized to speak to the media about Mr. Baja’s detention, because the individual’s safety is at risk.

Mr. Haftar is backed by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization with business interests across Africa, according to the source and a 2023 report by The Sentry, a U.S.-based investigative and policy organization.

The Wagner Group, which has also played a significant role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is supporting Mr. Haftar because of its interest in Libyan oil and gas – an alliance that is of increasing concern to the U.S. government, The Sentry report added.

Mr. Baja’s imprisonment, which is being monitored by the United Nations and Global Affairs Canada, is a high-profile example of rampant civil- and human-rights abuses that threaten plans to hold long-delayed elections in Libya.

After he was fired from his Ottawa diplomatic posting in 2017, Mr. Baja returned to Libya and applied for immigration to Canada.

His wife, Rabea Deheideh, and their three children were granted refugee status here because they were previously targeted by fundamentalists in Libya, according to a 2020 decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The document also lists Mr. Baja’s political adversaries, including Mr. Haftar.

Ms. Deheideh is now a permanent resident (PR), and her two sons, Mohammad Baja and Yousif Baja, are Canadian citizens. Daughter Hamida Baja has a postgraduate work permit and is the mother of a Canadian-born child.

Mr. Baja’s immigration application, however, was stalled last year over a bureaucratic tangle involving his medical disclosures, police certificates and biometric data, according to his family members and correspondence reviewed by The Globe.

“Please help me,” Mr. Baja wrote in an e-mail to Canadian immigration officials on March 2, 2023. “I have been approved for a PR. Why am I still being asked to provide the same things over and over when it costs me thousands of dollars as well as international travel?”

In that same e-mail, Mr. Baja indicates that he has completed requests for his biometric and medical data more than four different times in various countries.

“I provided fingerprints to the FBI twice, the first attempt was rejected due to the quality of fingerprint services in Libya,” Mr. Baja wrote. “The second attempt was fingerprinted in Egypt but was also deemed not good enough. I have nowhere else to go to complete this fingerprint request.”

Canadian immigration officials responded on March 7, confirming receipt of his medical paperwork. But they noted that his biometrics and police certificates from Libya, Egypt and the United States remained outstanding.

“Please be advised that if items are not provided, a decision will be taken regarding your application based on those information available on file. This might mean a refusal.”

In a subsequent correspondence dated March 21, Mr. Baja asked whether it would be possible for him to obtain the remaining items in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada declined to comment on the status of Mr. Baja’s immigration application, citing privacy legislation.

“It’s quite demoralizing and disheartening,” said Hamida Baja. “We don’t understand why they refuse to allow him to come here.”

Mr. Baja’s family has also requested assistance from Global Affairs Canada, which advised them last month their correspondence was forwarded to the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.

Global Affairs did not provide further details when pressed by The Globe. Last year, the department acknowledged it was aware of Mr. Baja’s arrest, but said it was not in a position to comment.

The Libyan embassy in Ottawa, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comment about Mr. Baja’s detention.

“Health-wise, he is so bad,” Ms. Deheideh said, adding her husband is suffering from diabetes and cardiac issues. “Mentally, he is not that good.”

Mr. Baja’s imprisonment is being monitored by the UN panel of experts on Libya, according to the confidential source. Panel members are particularly concerned about his declining health, that person added.

The UN did not respond to a request for comment.

Political activists Siraj Daghman and Tariq Al-Bashari were also arrested with Mr. Baja after a meeting at a think tank in Benghazi, according to Libyan media reports.

Mr. Baja, an academic with a PhD in comparative politics and political theory, helped establish a local political party that was preparing a campaign for the forthcoming elections, said his son, Yousif Baja.

“This was just a tactic of Khalifa Haftar,” Mr. Baja said of his father’s detention. “He didn’t want his political party to win.”

At least three political parties in Libya have called for the release of Mr. Baja and his colleagues, according to the Al-Wasat online newspaper. Their joint statement characterized the arrests as blatant violations of civil rights.

In December, Abdoulaye Bathily, special representative of the secretary-general for Libya and head of the UN support mission in Libya, voiced concerns about a rash of arbitrary detentions in the North African country.

At least 60 people, including children, were arbitrarily detained by militias and other security actors for their actual or perceived political affiliation in the last nine months of 2023 alone, Mr. Bathily told the UN Security Council.

During his interview with The Globe last year, Mr. Baja expressed his desire for Libya to finally have a democratically elected government.

“A lot of members [of Libya’s parliament], including their leaders, are – sorry for my language – but they are thieves,” Mr. Baja said.


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