The following is a "Libya Watch for Human Rights" paper in :
The "Human Rights in Libya" seminar, the British Parliament
London, Tuesday, 29 June, 2004
Political Prisoners And Disappeared Victims In Libyan Prisons
The issue of political prisoners and disappeared victims in the Libyan prisons is considered one of the important issues that reveals how dehumanised the Libyans are within their own country. The Libyan regime is one of the foremost regimes that violate the rights of the political prisoners worldwide, although Libya has signed most of the agreements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet they still deny having such prisoners.
1. Prisons and detention centres in Libya.
2. How they deal with prisoners: Detention, interrogation, torture.
3. The laws set for trying the prisoners.
4. Types of Courts allowed for the political prisoners.
5. Three cases showing how the Libyan regime deal with the political prisoners: the massacre of Abu-Salem Prison – The Muslim Brotherhood – The Bulgarian’s case.
6. Conclusion and recommendations.
Before getting into much detail, we would like to point out that: According to Law 71, 1972 that bans any sort of collective activities and the law of banning the foundation of any civil society or organisation, our organisation and all other Libyan local and international organisations is banned from working in Libya except for the Human Rights Society which is run by the Gaddafi Charitable Foundation headed by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi. Also, I would like to point out that all the information, numbers and ratios included in this paper are taken from various sources and obtained through the following ways of communication:
· Personal contact with large numbers of ex-prisoners living in western countries, especially the U.K.
· Personal contact with some of the security officers and the Intelligence personnel who were working under different units of the security bodies.
· Personal Contact with the relatives and families of the prisoners that fled Libya to save their lives and their children. Among the attendants today, we can see a sample of thousands of Libyan families whose bread-winners were jailed, whereas the state did not provide any social support. For instance, we can find among the attendants a mother of nine children who left Libya for her original country, Britain with her nine children deprived from their Libyan father who has been detained since six years, sentenced to life imprisonment after he has been accused of joining a political party.
· The efforts of international organisations particularly the Amnesty International Organisation (which has visited Libya recently) and also the efforts of Libyan human rights organisations which are all operating abroad.
Prisons and detention centres:
There are a number of prisons in Libya, the oldest and largest are: Abu-Salem Prison, Ain Zara Prison in Tripoli and Koaifia Prison in Benghazi. There are also hundreds of provisional detention centres and interrogation offices run by the State Security Forces.
Despite the improvements made recently in the Libyan political prisons thanks to the endeavours of the Libyan Human Rights Society run by the Gaddafi Charitable Foundation, there is still a lot of work to be done. Let us have a look at the current situation of these prisons.
1. Most of the cells and chambers are unhealthy; the moistness caused the spread of a number of chronic diseases such as Asthma, breathlessness and serious diseases, which led to the death of many inmates insides these prisons, and on top of it Tuberculosis and Hepatitis.
2. Most of the cells are overcrowded; in some cases a cell which is deigned for 7 prisoners only accommodated 25. There is also a sever lack of mattresses and blankets.
3. Visits: Most of the Visits are still in most of these prisons irregular and discontinuous, and also most of the prisoners suffer from being severed from the outside world.
4. Most of the medical clinics inside the prisons undergo a severe shortage in medical supplies: instruments, drugs, etc. The majority of the sick inmates are deprived from being seen by a specialist Doctor as a way of punishment and the foundation has recorded, through the testimony of some prisoners, many cases of patients who died at the presence of their friends, because of the severity of illness, pain, health negligence and carelessness of prison wardens.
5. Most of these prisons suffer from sever shortage in financing. Even the meals brought by the prisoners’ relatives are subjected to the mood of the prison police who mostly make the prisoners starve and deprive them from food as a way of punishment.
The security bodies that supervise detention and torture operations:
The Libyan authorities are breaching the human rights through two important agencies:
(1) the foreign security agency, whose duty in the first place is to chase the oppositions’ activists abroad and monitor their movements,
(2) the internal security agency that branches into five departments all of which work to monitor any political activities or humane rights inside the country. This is the major agency which is responsible for conducting arbitrary and unspecified detention as well as committing torture and malltreatment of the prisoners. It also has a wide network of buildings and secret offices which are immune from any supervision. In this agency, orders are given to directly arrest and detain in the late hours of nights as well as practicing horrific forms of torture.
Types of detention and torture:
It is customarily during the process of the arbitrary and unlawful detention to experience searches without courts permission, looting and robbing all the detainees possessions and harassing their wives and daughters. The security forces and the Libyan police has been used to torture the detainees and mistreat them especially during interrogation. In most cases, the bosses themselves torture the detainees to get information from them or to make them admit doing something, which may lead sometimes to death. They do this as a means of punishment or terrorising the detainees. Also they arrest their parents and torture them to get information from them or to force their wanted relatives to surrender themselves.
The types of torture include beating on hands and feet with belts and sticks and electric cables, hanging in twisted and painful positions while beating, using electric shocks, raping and sexual violence as well as threatening them to rape their wives and daughters to force them to admit, not to mention the inhumane treatment that prisoner meets inside the prison like forcing him in many times to drink his urine.
Deaths under torture or due to health negligence:
Because of the absence of monitoring by the state or human rights organisations on the prisons in Libya, the parents and families of the prisoners lost hope in their children and relatives being alive, assuming that they died either under torture or due to health negligence or killed in the massacre of Abu-Salem Prison.
Types of informing of deaths:
Most of the families are usually informed verbally of the death of their relatives in detention, without issuing a death certificate. When the families exclaim on the date of death, the authorities reply usually by refusing giving the cause and circumstances of death. The Libyan authorities also didn’t hand over any corpses of the dead prisoners to their families. More astonishingly, in previous years the authorities would even prohibit holding funeral ceremonies.
Detention after the expiry of the punishment period:
Practicing unlawful detention after the expiry of the detention period is widely practised by the Libyan authorities continuously. Libya Watch has recorded many cases which spent more than 10 years in Libyan prisons although the so called ‘mahkamat al-sha’b’ (the People’s Court), which is an illegal court, has cleared the detainee since the first year. The Libyan authorities also didn’t compensate any prisoner on the extra years that he spent in its horrible prisons. As a result to the state of fear and terror that the Libyan citizen is living in, it is not possible for any person to inquire about his son or father or a relative. In Libya the detainee can be held for periods extending to weeks or months, and in some cases even years without any communication with the outside world, or with their families or lawyers and their place of detention is usually unknown. During this particular period they are more prone to most vicious acts of torture and illtreatment.
The laws that legitimise the state to jail its political opponents:
Law 71 of 1972 bans any form of mass activities based on political ideology opposing the principles of the 1st of September Revolution 1969. The 3rd article from law 71 states that execution is to be implemented for establishing organisations banned by law or joining or supporting them. Article 208 bans establishing any international association or joining it.Article 178 states that life imprisonment is to be given to anyone who spreads information defaming the (country) or endangers its reliability abroad”.
The special courts which the prisoners appear in:
‘mahkamat al-sha’b’ (The People’s Court): An instrument for political oppression:
It is a court categorised as exceptional (I would call it illegitimate) and it has no criteria for fair trails. The People’s Courts was established according to law 5,1988. The following amendments to the aforementioned laws especially the amendment that was introduced according to the Law 3,1997 has made the court and its assistant agency: ‘The People’s Prosecution Bureau’ a tool for the regime’s policy to achieve only the will of the regime not a tool for achieving justice.
By analysing the cases that the People’s Prosecution Bureau and the People’s Court are handling we can conclude the following:
· The People’s Prosecution Bureau tried always to hide the oppressive acts practised by the executive authority by releasing the suspect who was imprisoned in a legal way for a long period of time (could be for many years) only on paper, then arresting him in the same time again.
· The divisions of the People’s Court present the sentences-to-be before issuing them especially in important cases to get the approval of the regime; this is apparently breaches the independence and neutrality of the court.
· Some suspects had been cleared from all alleged crimes, though they remained under custody.
· There are no guarantees for the lawyers to perform their work by prohibiting them from practicing such rights from the People’s Prosecution Bureau which is considered a breach to the basic right of to defence before the People’s Court.
· Disallowing the lawyers from examining the client’s dossier which is considered a violation and breach of the client’s rights.
The legal roles of the People’s Courts makes achieving justice an impossible issue, hence the lawyers and law experts and human rights organisations always demand the necessity of abolishing the People’s Court and substituting it with a fair judiciary system capable of judging on the meant cases.
Some of the cases that reveal the violations of political prisoners rights in Libya:
The events of the end of June 1996 that happened in the Abu-Salem prison:
The case of (Abu-Salem prison massacre), which happened on the same day, is considered one of the severest catastrophes which the Libyans went through since hundreds of years. We don’t exaggerate if we say that it is a tragedy never witnessed in the political history of Libya throughout its history.
On the 28th and 29th of June 8 years ago, the Libyan authorities has committed a massacre in its largest political confinement camps (Abu-Salem Prison) when it fired using light and heavy weaponry the unarmed prisoners whose only sin is that they declared mutiny and strike inside the prison due to the bad health situation and the inhumane treatment and protesting the means of torture and humiliation they get there as well as being imprisoned continuously without being presented to any court. This made the authorities, after a negotiation process with the inmates, who captured a prison guard, for many hours agreed upon the conditions suggested by the prisoners in return of releasing the detained guard. Such conditions are to allow them communicate with the outside world and to be presented to trials and to be treated well and to stop torturing them. Having released the guard, the prisons forces were commanded by the highest authorities to end the mutiny by a brutal way after they had gathered in the wide courtyard; they were shot by bullets randomly leaving hundreds of souls dead. Libya Watch has recorded and documented the complete event via a witness of this massacre.
So far the Libyan authorities, despite the admission of Col. Mummar Gaddafi of the event, have not taken any serious step to remedy this case. Also none of the officers who carried out the operation was taken to court. Ironically, the Libyan authorities are making compensations to all the western and American victims, the families of the victims in the massacre of Abu-Salem Prison who are counted in hundreds (nearly 800) are still waiting for the international community to carry out anything that puts pressure on the Libyan regime so as to pursue an investigation on the circumstances of this tragic event and publish its results and the names of the killed for the public opinion and compensate the victims’ families and punish the predators.
The Muslim Brotherhood:
On June 1998, 152 professionals and students were arrested accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathising with them. Since their arrest, they were detained for indefinite time and their detention places remained unknown for two years. It was not allowed for the families to contact them briefly for the first time only in a session held before the People’s Court in Tripoli on April 2001, during which the men were allowed legal appearance in front of the court, usually from lawyers appointed by the court who belong to the Public lawyers’ office.
On 16th of February, two prisoners, Abdullah Ahmed Izzedin and Salem Abu Hanak, were sentenced to death before a People's Court in Tripoli after an unfair trial. Salem Abu Hanak, born in 1956 and father of five, was the head of the Chemistry Department at the Faculty of Science, University of Qar Younes in Benghazi. He was arrested on 5th of June 1998, whereas Abdullah Ahmed Izzedin, born in 1950 and father of four, was a lecturer at the nuclear Engineering Faculty, Al Fatih university in Tripoli. Thirty seven of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, 11 sentenced to 10 years in jail and 66 were acquitted.
The appeal trial before the People's Court of Appeal has been repeatedly adjourned, with hearings taking place approximately every three months and reportedly lasting just a few minutes.
During this period of detention incommunicado, some of the accused has mentioned, to Amnesty International whom they met inside the prison, that they faced torture, including beating on their bare feet after their arrest by individuals in the internal security agency. Hence the accused were forced as mentioned to sign on their confessions.
One of the detainees, Salem Abu Hanak, who was later sentenced to death in February 2002, told Amnesty International delegates that he was arrested on 5th of June 1998 from his home in the early hours and was taken to the headquarters of the Revolutionary Committees at al-Birka in Benghazi. That day he was questioned about his connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to his testimony, during the questioning, he was tortured by electric shocks at his arms and he was beaten with electric cables on his feet in order to make him admit. Later on, his wife was brought to him and he was threatened that she would be raped. He said "once I saw my wife and realised what they might do to her, I decided to tell them anything they wanted to know". Once he had agreed to admit, the torture stopped.
AIDS And the Bulgarians case:
In the so-called HIV trial where 6 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian Doctor were accused of deliberately injecting 426 children with AIDS virus while working in the Al-Fateh Children Hospital in Benghazi.
After their arrest, the seven foreign nationals were held for more than a year with only intermittent access to the outside world.
The Bulgarian suspects told Amnesty International delegates that those who tortured them instructed them not to talk about the treatment they got to their diplomatic representatives which varied from the extensive use of electric shocks at the top of their arms; blindfolding and threats with being attacked by dogs; and beatings, including falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet) and with electric cables. They said that they were tortured for approximately two months, sometimes on a daily basis.
Disappeared prisoners and victims inside the Libyan prisons:
Libyan and international Human rights organisations has recorded more than 300 documented cases where the Libyan authorities have informed their relatives of the death of their sons recently in vague circumstances. Neither did the state hand over the death certificate nor the body. The Libyan state refuses to identify the cause of death, Human Rights Solidarity Organisation in Geneva has published a list with the names of 258 prisoners whose relatives has lost contact with them since their arrest. In some cases, it seems that the prisoners were arrested without any accusation or trail for more than a decade. In some other cases, it is assumed that even the persons who were acquitted were still detained, even though their relatives didn’t hear about them for years.
Of the prominent figures who are detained in the prisons of the Libyan regime and who is assumed that they were killed inside the Libyan prisons or the detention and police centres are what follows:
Mansur al-Kikhiya, a human rights activist and the Secretary General of the National Libyan Alliance, disappeared in Cairo, Egypt in 1993, when he was attending the general conference of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Cairo and was last seen on the evening of 10 December 1993 at the al-Safir Hotel.
Jaballah Hamed Matar and 'Ezzat Youssef al-Maqrif, two prominent members of the Libyan opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), disappeared in Cairo in March 1990. Their whereabouts since that time have remained unknown, although unconfirmed reports have suggested that they were both handed over to the Libyan authorities.
Imam Musa al-Sadr, a prominent Iranian-born Shi'a cleric of a Lebanese nationality, disappeared along with two others during a visit to Libya in 1978. On 1st September 2002. in a well-known speech, Colonel al-Gaddafi said Imam Musa al-Sadr had disappeared in Libya.
Amer Khalifa Al Nami a professor of Islamic studies, who obtained his PhD from Cambridge University, disappeared in Libyan regime’s prisons since his arrest in 1984, some unconfirmed news point out that Dr. Amer died under torture, since 20 years his family and children are still waiting for their father’s fate.
Conclusion and Recommendations:
The political prisoners and disappearances tragedy in Libya won’t cease unless the Libyan authorities take the following serious steps:
To abolish Immediately all the laws that restrict public freedoms whose terms and conditions contradict the universal deceleration of human rights and all international pacts and agreements which Libya has participated in signing and ratifying and vowed to implement them. Such laws allow the state to arrest political prisoners and prevent them from practicing their political rights and on top of them:
1. Law 71 of 1972 which criminalize parties, and bans any type of peaceful collective work independent from the authority and abolish the death penalty which is legitimised in this law stating that every one who supported or participated in an organisations opposing the principals and objectives of the ruling regime in Libya.
2. Reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared victims inside the Libyan prisons and confinement camps.
3. Reveal all the names of those who died inside the Libyan prisons, and the cause of death, and to hold the predators responsible as well as bearing the total legal, human, and financial consequences.
4. The immediate release of all the political prisoners, and compensating and rehabilitating them physically and mentally to return to their normal life.
5. Abolish all the special courts, military, revolutionary, and public (such as the People’s Court), including the Lawyers’ administration (Public Defence) and allow establishing a free independent syndicate for lawyers, and working seriously to insure the credibility and independence of Libyan judiciary system.
6. Not to detain any human being living in Libya who has been accused without a legal arrest warrant and the necessity to ensure legal guarantees and the international standards recognised during the period of his arrest and trail, and if there is no need to try him, he must be released immediately and to be compensated on what he had lost of rights according to the standards of law and justice.
7. Reform the prison system in Libya to meet the international requirements and standards especially concerning providing health care and improving food and allowing the prisoners to communicate with the outside world and let his relatives to visit him regularly.
8. Opening the way for political and cultural pluralism, and to adopt dialogue in substitution to violence as a means of speech between the people and the authority, and diminishing the state’s control on mass media and sectors of artistic creativity and intellectual production.