On Friday 17th of February 2006 the Libyan government organized what was intended to be a peaceful demonstration in the city of Benghazi, to protest against the Italian minister of reform Roberto Calderoli who appeared on state TV wearing a t-shirt featuring the Danish cartoons.
An eyewitness said the demonstration lost its peaceful track when security forces started provoking the crowd as they wanted to break into the Italian consulate, which ended into a violent confrontation between the two. The situation developed in a desperate struggle to break into the Italian consulate, and a youth in his early twenty’s succeeded in climbing the roof of the building and snatching the Italian flag. The security forces shot him dead which inflamed the tense situation that went totally out of control.
In an attempt to disperse the angry crowd the security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. But this did not stop the angry mass from storming the consulate and setting it into flames. Libyan officials said 11 people were killed and up to 69 wounded during clashes 25 of which are in critical condition, eyewitnesses affirmed to Human Rights Solidarity that the number of dead is double this figure. The casualties included police officers no Italians were injured during the riot. In the meantime arbitrary arrests were taking place and hundreds of demonstrators were put in custody.
The authorities tried to contain the situation by launching an investigation against the internal security minister and a number of security chief-officers in Benghazi. Mr. Nasr El-Mabrouk, who was suspended, is accused of using excessive force and was turned to the attorney general for investigation. We should mention that Mr. El-Mabrouk and before occupying his present ministerial position was responsible for the torture and abuse of political prisoners and prisoners conscience and was one of the names involved in the mass killings of Abu-salim prison in June 1996.
In addition, the 19th of February was declared a day of mourning in all the country and those who died in the conflict were considered as martyrs. The injured where taken to Europe in private jets for medication as the government rumored. Human Rights Solidarity however knew later that they were actually taken to local hospitals in Tripoli and some are still left in hospitals in Benghazi under terrible conditions lacking the slightest ingredients of healthcare.
The government efforts failed to calm the situation and the angry crowd returned Saturday morning to burn whatever left from the Italian consulate before turning to government buildings and burning more than thirty of them, including four police stations the security department and the criminal research center. In a total absence of any form of state authority, chaos and disorder prevailed and the protesters took control over the streets of the city.
On Sunday 19th of February Benghazi witnessed a funeral that had never witnessed before, where More than five thousand people marched fifteen miles from Omar Ben Alahse Street in the heart of the city to El-hawari cemetery carrying 15 victims of the Friday clashes to their final resting place. On return clashes resumed throughout the night.
On Monday morning 20th of February massive military and security forces successively arrived to the city of Benghazi and immediately centralized in the strategic parts of the city and in front of government buildings. At 2:00 pm the state TV announced a state of emergency in the city and applied a curfew to the date of this report. Meanwhile, arbitrary arrests continued and shots were hared throughout the city.
Under the complete blackout of events practiced by the regime, very limited information is seeping to the outside world. Reliable sources confirmed to Human Rights Solidarity that a number of internet cafés are closed and others are put under control and observation. The same source verifies that a number of regulars of these cafés were arrested and interrogated, accused of visiting prohibited internet sites. It is known that the Libyan authorities are limiting access to several internet sites of this sort which are administered and owned by Libyans living abroad. The internet is considered as one of the main sources of independent and neutral information to the Libyan citizen. It is worth mentioning that the press law in Libya prevents privatization of the press, and all the major news papers are owned to the government and under the direct surveillance of the authorities or the revolutionary committee’s and therefore a biased press. The Libyan authorities also limits the movement of foreign agency reporters and prevents them from leaving the capital Tripoli without a special permission and it is worth mentioning here that Al-jazeera reporter Kalid El-Deeb was covering the incident from the capital Tripoli a 1000km from the heart of the event.
Further more the telecommunication company Libyana headed by Gaddafi’s sun Mohamed had shutdown the network to minimize the spread of information using portable phones, in addition threatening messages were received on customer’s mobile phones warning them from taking part in the events.
Under the military and security siege imposed on the city and under the complete blackout of information Human rights Solidarity expresses great concern to the human rights situation inside the city of Benghazi
HRS strongly condemns the use of deadly force against the demonstrators and request the Libyan authorities to carry out comprehensive, independent and impartial investigations into all cases.
From previous experience, those who speak out against the revolution and its leader are held incommunicado and face long term imprisonment. They are usually subjected to different forms of ill-treatment, torture and have no access to legal counsel.
We therefore demand from the Libyan authorities to make public the names of all those who were arrested and their place of detention. Release all those who were arrested merely because of their participation in the demonstration. To ensure the rest of the detainees are brought before an independent judicial authority without delay to review the lawfulness and necessity of their detention; give prompt and regular access to relatives, lawyers and doctors of the detainees' own choosing
HRS calls on the Security apparatuses to refrain from using its old tactics of terrorising people by their night raids and hold it responsible for the life of those who are in their custody. We would also remind them that those responsible for torture and other human rights violations will be brought to justice, and there will be no impunity regardless of rank or position.
Repeal law 45 of 1972, which prohibits peaceful strikes and demonstrations and criminalize activities of peaceful exercise and the rights to freedom of expression.
Human Rights Solidarity
Geneva, 28th February 2006