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Libya: Rights at Risk

Human Rights Watch

September 2, 2008


Despite modest improvements in recent years, Libyans and foreign residents in Libya

continue to suffer from serious violations of human rights. The continued arrests and

incarceration of political prisoners, some of them “disappeared”; the torture of detainees;

the absence of a free press; the ban on independent organizations; and violations of

women’s and foreigners’ rights plague the country as it tries to reintegrate with the

international community. The country is dominated by one leader, who tolerates no

unsanctioned criticism of his rule or Libya’s unique political system.

Human Rights Watch welcomes improved relations between Libya and other

governments, including with the United States, but not at the expense of human rights

and the rule of law. To date, international engagement with the oil-rich country has

focused on counter-terrorism and business ties, and inadequately addressed the lack of

democratic reform and protection of human rights.

Below is a selection of the key human rights issues in Libya, as documented by Human

Rights Watch. The material is based primarily on three visits to Libya since 2005. For

more detailed information, see:


I. Political Prisoners

Scores of individuals are serving long terms in Libyan prisons for engaging in peaceful

political activity, and some have been forcibly “disappeared.” Law 71, described below,

bans independent political activity, and violators can be subject to the death penalty.


Fathi al-Jahmi


Fathi al-Jahmi is Libya’s most well-known political prisoner, and his case is entwined in

Libya-US relations.

Internal security forces first arrested al-Jahmi, 66, in October 2002, after he publicly

criticized Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi and called for free elections, a free press,

and the release of political prisoners. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, but an

appeals court ordered his release in March 2004, after US Senator and now Democratic

Party vice-presidential candidate Joseph Biden personally raised the case with al-Qadhafi

during a visit to Tripoli.

President Bush welcomed al-Jahmi’s release. “Earlier today, the Libyan government

released Fathi al-Jahmi,” he said on March 12, 2004. “It’s an encouraging step toward

reform in Libya. You probably have heard, Libya is beginning to change her attitude

about a lot of things.”

That same day, al-Jahmi gave an interview to US-funded al-Hurra television in which he

repeated his call for Libya’s democratization. He gave another interview to the station on

March 16, in which he called al-Qadhafi a dictator and said, “all that is left for him to do

is hand us a prayer carpet and ask us to bow before his picture and worship him.” On

March 25, he told al-Arabiyya television, “I don’t recognize al-Qadhafi as the leader of


The next day, security agents entered al-Jahmi’s Tripoli house and arrested him, his wife,

and their eldest son. The arrest was for their own protection, officials said, due to public

outrage over his comments to the media.

A secret trial began in late 2005. The state apparently charged al-Jahmi with trying to

overthrow the government, insulting al-Qadhafi, and having unauthorized contacts with

foreign officials. The third charge, al-Jahmi told Human Rights Watch, resulted from

conversations he had had with a US diplomat in Tripoli.

In May 2006, the secret court found al-Jahmi mentally unfit for trial and ordered him

detained at a psychiatric hospital. Al-Jahmi’s family was not told of the decision, or of al-

Jahmi’s whereabouts during the roughly one year he spent at the hospital.

Al-Jahmi’s physical health significantly declined in the psychiatric hospital, and in July

2007 the authorities transferred him to the state-run Tripoli Medical Center, where he

remained under guard. Al-Jahmi suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

In March 2008, the Qadhafi Development Foundation, a quasi-governmental organization

run by Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, facilitated a trip by Human Rights

Watch and Physicians for Human Rights to al-Jahmi in the Tripoli Medical Center.

According to al-Jahmi, during the roughly one year of incommunicado detention in the

psychiatric hospital, the authorities denied him access to a doctor and needed


On March 13, Dr. Scott Allen, an adviser to Physicians for Human Rights and co-director

of the Brown University Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, conducted a

thorough medical examination of al-Jahmi, consulted with his doctor, and reviewed his

medical records. Dr. Allen concluded that al-Jahmi’s condition had improved in recent

months since his transfer to the Tripoli Medical Center, but that negligent care during his

time at the psychiatric hospital, and perhaps before, had contributed to a serious

deterioration of al-Jahmi’s health. According to al-Jahmi’s doctor, al-Jahmi was

experiencing severe heart failure at the time of his transfer to the Tripoli Medical Center.

As of September 1, Al-Jahmi remained under guard at the Tripoli Medical Center. The

last family visit was in early July.



Idris Boufayed Group


In February 2007, Libyan security agents in Tripoli arrested 14 organizers of a planned

political demonstration. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, none of the men had used

or were advocating the use of violence. The demonstration was intended to commemorate

the anniversary of a demonstration one year before in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest

city, in which 11 protesters died during clashes with police.

On May 27, 2008, the authorities released one of the men, Jum`a Boufayed, who had

been missing since his arrest. A second man, `Adil Humaid, was released on June 10. A

third man, `Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, has been “disappeared” since his arrest in

February 2007.

On June 10, 2008, a state security court sentenced the remaining 11 men to prison terms

ranging from 6 to 25 years. The court found them guilty of planning to overthrow the

government and meeting with an official from a foreign government, apparently a US

embassy official in Tripoli. They were acquitted on the charge of possessing arms.

The state security court, which was created in August 2007 to handle political cases, is

reportedly located inside Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, a facility run by Libya’s Internal

Security Agency.

The main organizer of the planned demonstration, Idris Boufayed, who lived in

Switzerland for 16 years before returning to Libya in November 2006, received a 25 year

sentence. He reportedly suffers from advanced lung cancer. On May 28, 2008, a progovernment

newspaper in Libya reported that an official “medical committee” had

consented to Boufayed’s release on medical grounds, but to Human Rights Watch’s

knowledge he remains in prison as of September 1, 2008.

The court sentenced another member of the group, Jamal al-Haji, a writer who holds

Danish citizenship, to 12 years. Libyan authorities have refused to recognize al-Haji’s

Danish citizenship or respond to Danish government requests to visit him, in violation of

Libya’s obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. A few

days before his arrest, Al-Haji had published an article calling for “freedom, democracy,

a constitutional state, and law” in Libya.


II. Death in Custody of Returnee from Sweden


Mohammed Adel Abu Ali, a Libyan citizen whose asylum claim was rejected by the

Swedish Migration Board, was transported from Sweden to Libya on May 6, 2008.

Libyan authorities took him into custody upon his arrival. According to news reports and

Libyan human rights groups, on May 22 the Libyan authorities informed Abu Ali’s

family that he had died, and asked relatives to claim the body. The rights groups say

Libyan authorities tortured him in detention.


On July 4, the Swedish Migration Board publicly confirmed that Abu Ali had died in

Libyan custody. It stated that Sweden had suspended all deportations to Libya until the

conclusion of an investigation into the circumstances around Abu Ali’s deportation and


Abu Ali first applied for asylum in Sweden on November 20, 2003. After receiving his

final rejection on September 8, 2005, he fled to the United Kingdom, according to a

lawyer who later represented him. British authorities returned Abu Ali to Sweden, where

authorities took him into custody on January 14, 2008, before deporting him back to



III. Torture


Torture is prohibited under Libyan law, its commission is a criminal offense, and the

government has repeatedly claimed that it investigates and prosecutes cases in which

torture against detainees is alleged. Nevertheless, reports of torture and maltreatment in

detention are consistent and credible, including in the recent case of Mohammed Adel

Abu Ali (see above), who died in custody.

During Human Rights Watch’s research in Libya in April-May 2005, 15 out of 32

prisoners interviewed in five different detention facilities said they had been tortured

during interrogation. They said interrogators had subjected them to electric shocks, hung

them from walls, and beat them with clubs and wooden sticks. Confessions extracted

through torture were admitted as evidence against them in court.

The US government has recognized torture as a serious concern. According to the State

Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, methods of torture in

Libya included:

chaining prisoners to a wall for hours; clubbing; applying electric shock;

applying corkscrews to the back; pouring lemon juice in open wounds;

breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care;

suffocating with plastic bags; depriving detainees of sleep, food, and

water; hanging by the wrists; suspending from a pole inserted between the

knees and elbows; burning with cigarettes; threatening with dog attacks;

and beatings on the soles of the feet.

The most prominent case involved the six foreign healthcare workers – 5 Bulgarians and

one Palestinian – who were arrested in 1999 and sentenced to death for purposefully

infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV. They were released in July 2007

following a deal with the European Union to compensate the victims’ families.

During interviews in Tripoli’s Jdeida prison in May 2005, four of the six foreign

healthcare workers told Human Rights Watch that they had confessed after enduring

torture, including sexual assault. On August 10, 2007, in an interview on al-Jazeera, Seif

al-Islam al-Qadhafi said that the healthcare workers had been physically abused. The

torture of these foreign workers is the only case in which the authorities are known to

have conducted a criminal investigation into torture, but the ten Libyan security officials

charged with torturing the workers were acquitted in June 2005.


IV. Guantanamo Returns


In 2006 and 2007, the US government returned two Libyan citizens from the

Guantanamo Bay detention facility to Libya. Both were detained upon return and held in

custody without charge and apparently without access to lawyers. According to the US

government, the Libyan authorities gave assurances of humane treatment prior to the


On or around December 17, 2006, the US returned Muhammad Abdallah Mansur al-Rimi

(aka Muhammad Abdullah Mansour al-Futury or Abdesalam Safrani), age 40, after four

years in detention at Guantanamo Bay. The US alleged that al-Rimi was a member of the

Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an armed group dedicated to overthrowing Mu`ammar

al-Qadhafi. Al-Rimi denied the charges but told his Guantanamo review tribunal: “I have

a problem with the Libyan government and it is a long story.”

According to the Qadhafi Development Foundation, al-Rimi was treated for tuberculosis

upon return. Shortly after his return, a foundation official said the Libyan authorities did

not want al-Rimi, and he would "go back to his family soon." As of January 2008, he was

still in detention. Human Rights Watch has received no news of his release since that


Despite repeated requests, the Libyan government has failed to provide Human Rights

Watch any information about the location of al-Rimi. The US State Department,

however, told Human Rights Watch in January 2008 that US officials had visited al-Rimi

on two occasions: in August 2007 and on December 25, 2007. Al-Rimi said Libyan

security forces were detaining him but were treating him well, the State Department said,

including medical treatment for an arm injury he sustained during a scuffle with guards at

Guantanamo. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the claim, and it is unknown

whether US officials have conducted subsequent visits.

The December meeting was convened in an office of the state security services, and not

in the place of al-Rimi’s detention. The meeting took place in the presence of Libyan

officials and an official from the Qadhafi Development Foundation. Al-Rimi did not

know the charges against him, and he apparently had not seen a lawyer since his return.

He had received no family visits, he reportedly said.

A January 2, 2008, statement from the Qadhafi Development Foundation said the

organization had visited al-Rimi on December 25, 2007, and that he was receiving

medical treatment for his injured arm.

The second returnee was Sofian Ibrahim Hamad Hamoodah, 49, whom the US sent back

on or around September 30, 2007, after 5 years in Guantanamo Bay. As with al-Rimi, the

Libyan authorities have failed to provide Human Rights Watch with information about

his whereabouts or why he is being held.

According to the State Department, US officials first visited Hamoodah on December 25,

2007. As with al-Rimi, as of January 2008, security forces were holding him on unknown

charges and apparently without access to a lawyer, but he did not complain of

maltreatment. He was scheduled to receive a family visit on December 27, he told the US

officials. Human Rights Watch has no news of his subsequent release.

The Qadhafi Development Foundation statement said it also visited Hamoodah on

December 25, and that he was subsequently granted a family visit. The Foundation was

providing a Tripoli apartment for Hamoodah’s family, the statement said.

In April 2007, the US wanted to return a third Libyan from Guantanamo, Abdul Ra’ouf

al-Qassim, but they took him off the transfer list after protests from members of Congress

and human rights groups.

On or around December 19, 2007, the US released a fourth Libyan from Guantanamo

Bay, Omar Deghayes, 38, but sent him to the UK, where he has refugee status. The UK

authorities initially detained him but then released him on bail. Deghayes faces an

extradition request from Spain, where he could face terrorism charges.

Human Rights Watch has documented how diplomatic assurances from a state where

torture and ill-treatment are routine do not provide an effective safeguard against abuse

(see and In two reports, the organization

documented the abuse of former detainees from Guantanamo Bay and due process

violations upon return, despite diplomatic assurances of humane treatment (see and

The United States continues to hold 8 Libyan citizens at Guantanamo Bay.


V. Law 71


Law 71 bans any group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of

the al-Fateh Revolution, which brought Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi to power in 1969. Article

3 of the law imposes the death penalty on those who form, join or support such groups.

Over the years, Libyan authorities have imprisoned hundreds of people for violating this

law, and sentenced some to death.


VI. Death Penalty


For more than three years, Libya has said that legal experts are drafting new penal and

criminal procedure codes. In 2005 the Libyan Secretary of Justice told Human Rights

Watch that, in the new penal code, the death penalty “will be reduced to the greatest

possible extent,” although it will remain for serious crimes, such as terrorism. As of

September 1, 2008, the government has not introduced a new penal code or code of

criminal procedure. Many of the current articles impose death for activities that should be

protected under the rights to free expression and assembly.

Article 166 of the penal code imposes the death penalty on anyone who talks to or

conspires with a foreign official to provoke or contribute to an attack against


Article 206 imposes the death penalty on those who call “for the establishment of

any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law,” and on those who

belong to or support such an organization.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances due to its inherent

cruel and inhumane nature.


VII. Freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression


Libya has no independent nongovernmental organizations. Law 19, “On Associations,”

requires a political body to approve all such organizations and does not allow appeals of

negative decisions.

Freedom of expression is severely curtailed. Article 178 of the penal code orders life

imprisonment for the dissemination of information considered to “tarnish [the country’s]

reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad.” Negative comments about al-Qadhafi

are strictly punished, and self-censorship is rife. Uncensored news is available via

satellite television and Libyan websites based abroad, which the government occasionally


The exception to these rules are organizations run by Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, who has

criticized the lack of representative government and called for a free press. His quasiofficial

Qadhafi Development Foundation helped negotiate the release of the six foreign

healthcare workers in 2007. In August 2007, his al-Ghad company launched Libya’s first

private newspapers and television station, which have at times expressed gentle criticism

of government officials and policy.


VIII. Women’s Rights


While legal reforms over the past several decades have put Libya ahead of many of its

neighbors in terms of gender equality, rigid social norms governing women’s status in the

family consistently undermine these advances. Serious problems remain in the

government’s approach to gender-based violence in particular. The government’s

widespread denial of the problem combined with a lack of adequate laws and services

leaves many victims of violence unprotected. There is no domestic violence law in Libya,

and laws punishing sexual violence are inadequate. Only the most violent rape cases are

criminally prosecuted, and judges have the authority to propose marriage between the

rapist and the victim as a “social remedy” to the crime. Rape victims themselves risk

prosecution for extramarital sexual relations if they attempt to press charges. The

government has not established adequate shelters for victims of violence.

Human Rights Watch’s research has focused on the government’s practice of arbitrarily

detaining women and girls indefinitely in so-called “social rehabilitation centers.” The

official bylaw governing these facilities states that they are to provide housing for

“women who are vulnerable to engaging in moral misconduct.” Some women and girls

are confined because they were accused—but not criminally convicted—of having had

extramarital sex. Others had served prison sentences for engaging in extramarital sex, and

were transferred to the facilities because no male family member would take custody of

them. Many had been raped, and then evicted from their homes by their families.

Human Rights Watch visited two such facilities in April and May 2005: the Social

Welfare Home for Women in Tajoura, near Tripoli, and the Benghazi Home for Juvenile

Girls. In the operation of these facilities, Libya is violating some of the most basic

principles of human rights law. The women and girls Human Rights Watch interviewed

had no opportunity to contest their confinement in a court of law, and had no legal

representation. The exit requirements are in themselves arbitrary and coercive. The

authorities detain women and girls indefinitely until a male relative takes custody of them

or they consent to marriage. Staff did not allow them to leave the compound gates. They

also subjected them to long periods of solitary confinement, sometimes in handcuffs, for

trivial reasons such as “talking back.” Facility staff members tested women and girls for

communicable diseases without consent, and forced most new arrivals to endure invasive

virginity examinations upon entry to the facilities. The only education the government

offers girls in these facilities is weekly religious instruction. Suffering a range of human

rights abuses in the facilities, most of the women and girls Human Rights Watch

interviewed said they wanted to leave, and would escape if they could.

While the number of detained women and girls in Libya’s social rehabilitation facilities is

small—often less than one hundred—the abusive nature of these facilities and the

violations that occur within them require immediate action. In a January 2006 meeting

with Human Rights Watch, Aisha al-Qadhafi, daughter of the Libyan leader, promised to

investigate the abuses documented in our report on the topic. In February 2006, the

government said it had established a committee to study the conditions in Libya’s “social

rehabilitation” facilities, including examining the physical and psychological well-being

of the detained women and children. The results of the committee’s work, if any, remain



IX. Treatment of Foreigners


Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of people have come to Libya, mostly from

sub-Saharan Africa, either to stay in the country or to travel through to Europe. Many of

the foreigners came for economic reasons, but some have fled their home countries due to

persecution or war. Once welcomed as cheap labor, sub-Saharan Africans in Libya now

face tightened immigration controls, abusive detention, and deportation, even to countries

where they could face persecution or abuse.

In 2006 Human Rights Watch released a report that documented how Libyan authorities

have arbitrarily arrested undocumented foreigners, mistreated them in detention, and

forcibly returned them to countries where they could face persecution or torture, such as

Eritrea and Somalia. Foreigners interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported arbitrary

arrests, beatings and other abuse during their detention and deportation. On July 8, 2007,

Libya reportedly rounded up approximately 70 Eritrean men, some of whom may have

fled conscription into the Eritrean military. Eritrea has no conscientious objector status

and military offenders are frequently subjected to torture. Reportedly at Eritrea’s request,

the 70 men were photographed and made to give their names and dates of birth. They say

Libyan guards have threatened them with deportation.

An overarching problem is Libya’s refusal to introduce an asylum law or procedure,

despite repeated promises to do so and the establishment of a committee to draft such a

law in 2006. Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the government

makes no attempt to identify refugees or others in need of international protection.


X. Killings at Abu Salim Prison


On June 28, 1996, prisoners in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison, run by the Internal Security

Agency, rose in revolt. Security forces responded that day and the next, and hundreds of

prisoners died in circumstances that remain unclear.

Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi and other officials have admitted that security

forces killed some prisoners on those two days, claiming they responded properly to the

prison revolt. A former prisoner who said he witnessed the incident, however, told

Human Rights Watch that security forces used sustained gunfire to kill up to 1,200

prisoners after regaining control of the prison and then disposed of the bodies. Human

Rights Watch could not verify the claim, but his testimony is consistent with a report

from an émigré Libyan group, which was based on the account of another witness.

Twelve years after the incident, the Libyan government has failed to release important

details, including the number and names of all people killed.

In May 2005, the head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency told Human Rights Watch

that the government had formed a committee to investigate the prisoner deaths. To date,

the government has provided no further information about the committee or its findings.

Families of the missing have been increasingly vocal about getting information on the

fate of their relatives, including by going to court. In June 2008, the North Benghazi court

of first instance ruled in favor of the victims’ families, ordering the state to reveal the

identities of the dead and the circumstances in which they died. To Human Rights

Watch’s knowledge, the state has not yet complied with the ruling.

In a speech on July 24, Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi stated that he had received the results of

an initial investigation into the killings and that, in his opinion, “there was excessive use

of force and abuse of power” at the prison. He promised that a public trial, to be open to monitoring by “human rights organizations, journalist, activists and foreign

ambassadors,” would commence but gave no timetable.


الرابط  باللغة العربية

المصدر: موقع هيومن رايتس ووتش لحقوق الإنسان


شعـبان القـلعي


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