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Amnesty International

Sunday, 6 February, 2011

URGENT ACTION : Libyan prisoner tortured


Libyan prisoner tortured

Two brothers, who may be prisoners of conscience held solely for their interest in Amazigh culture, were arrested on 16 December in Tripoli. One has reported being tortured by the Libyan security forces in detention. Both are at risk of torture in Jdaida Prison where they are held.

Twin brothers Mazigh and Madghis Bouzakhar were arrested on 16 December at their home in Tripoli, allegedly by members of the External Security Agency (ESA), an intelligence body. They were reportedly accused of “spying and collaborating with Israel and Zionism”. Amnesty International believes their arrest was due to their membership of the World Amazigh Congress and other activities perceived to promote Amazigh (Berber) culture. They are currently held in Jdaida Prison following their transfer there on 27 January. Madghis Bouzakhar reported to his father that he had been kept in solitary confinement and had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while being interrogated by ESA agents during a period of almost a month. He described being subjected to falaqa, whereby the soles of the feet are beaten, and being beaten with sticks and gun butts. He was interrogated about an article he had written about the Amazigh and Jewish communities in Libya. Mazigh Bouzakhar was reportedly verbally abused during detention. Their father has said he fears for the safety of his sons due to the grave accusations they face.

The lawyer appointed to represent the brothers made a formal inquiry about them to the authorities on 19 January. He was told that they were under the supervision of the Department of Public Prosecution. However, on 23 January, that Department notified the lawyer that the brothers had been referred to the State Security Prosecution on 27 December. This contradicts a statement published by the ESA on its website on 12 January, which stated that they had been held under the supervision of the Public Prosecution since their arrest on suspicion of “working and collaborating with foreign intelligence”. Their father has been able to see them twice at an unknown location in the presence of security agents, and a third time on 31 January in Jdaida Prison, following their transfer. The lawyer appointed to represent them has reportedly not been permitted access to them or their case file.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Arabic, French or your own language:
- Calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mazigh and Madghis Bouzakhar if they are held solely for their interest in Amazigh culture and language;
- Urging the authorities to ensure that a full, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture is conducted and that any officials responsible for abuse are brought to justice; - Calling on the authorities to ensure the brothers are not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in custody, are allowed regular visits by their family and lawyers, and receive any medical assistance they may require.


Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Justice
Mustafa Abdeljalil
Secretariat of the General People’s Committee for Justice
Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Fax: +218 214 805427
Salutation: Your Excellency

Gaddafi Development Foundation Executive Director
Youssef M. Sewani
El Fatah Tower, 5th Floor B No.57
PO Box 1101, Tripoli
Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Salutation: Dear Sir

And copies to:

Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Public Security
General Abdul Fatah al Younis Ubeidi
Secretariat of the General People’s Committee for Public Security
Tripoli, Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Fax: +218 214 442903
Salutation: Your excellency
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADditional Information

Mazigh and Madghis Bouzakhar were held in the ESA for more than a month, from 16 December to 27 January, in breach of Libyan law. Article 26 of the Code of Criminal Procedures requires law enforcement officers to refer suspects to the Department of Public Prosecutions within 48 hours of arrest except in cases involving detainees suspected of committing offences such as threatening state security, who can be held for up to seven days before being charged or released. Article 26 further stipulates that the Department of Public Prosecution must question an accused within 24 hours and then either issue an order for continued detention or release.

Amnesty International is concerned that the arrests and continuous detention of the two men might be a result of the Libyan authorities’ intolerance to activities perceived as promoting the Amazigh (Berber) cultural or linguistic heritage. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Libya is obliged to guarantee that all people are protected from discrimination on any grounds, including ethnic, linguistic or cultural ones, and have the right to take part in cultural life.

The Libyan authorities claimed in their submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2003 that all Libyans are of a “common racial origin, all profess Islam and speak Arabic”. The state report added: “The fact that all Libyan citizens share a common origin, religion and language has undoubtedly been a determining factor in the absence of racial discrimination in the country”. Libyan NGOs based abroad, such as the Libyan Working Group, the Tabu Front for the Salvation of Libya and the World Amazigh Congress, disagree with this assessment and argue that the Libyan Nationality Code is inherently discriminatory in defining citizenship as “Arab”. Such groups also complain that the Amazigh language and culture is not recognized and that obstacles prevent the Amazigh community from preserving their language and culture. For example, Law No. 24 of 1369 prohibits the usage of languages other than Arabic in publications, official documents, public spaces and private enterprises.

Additionally, Article 3 of Law No. 24 prohibits the use of “non-Arab, non-Muslim names” as determined by the General People’s Committee (equivalent to the prime minister’s office). The law provides no opportunity for parents to appeal against the decision of the General People’s Committee.

The Libyan authorities also seem to show little tolerance towards Amazigh cultural rights activists, even those based abroad. In November 2009, the Libyan authorities deported Khaled Zerari, deputy head of the Word Amazigh Congress, from Libya upon his arrival from Morocco to attend the funeral of a well known Amazigh figure in Libya. After questioning him for several hours at the airport, Libyan law enforcement officials forced him to board a flight to Rome, from where he returned to Morocco. No official reason for the deportation was provided, but it is believed that he was prevented from entering Libya due to his activism for the rights of the Amazigh people in North Africa.

UA: 19/11 Index: MDE 19/002/2011 Issue Date: 04 February 2011

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For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email:

International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK

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