Fear of Abuse in Libyan Prisons Haunts New Libya


Documents with photographs and details of people wanted by the Libyan External Security office are seen in the abandoned office where Muammar Gaddafi’s former spy chief and foreign minister Moussa Koussa was based in Tripoli 3 September 2011. (Photo: REUTERS – Anis Mili)
Published Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Allegations of torture made against Libya’s rebel forces have prompted a major humanitarian organization to halt its operations in the country. Libyan authorities, however, strongly reject accusations that such abuses are taking place.

Misrata – The issue of human rights in Libya after the fall of its dictatorial regime remains a controversial one. This is especially true in light of criticisms by international humanitarian organizations over what is happening in prisons run by the new Libyan authorities.
All eyes were on Misrata (east of Tripoli) during the revolution against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, thanks to its resilience against a lengthy blockade imposed by the former regime’s brigades.

The city is back in the spotlight after a report by the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was issued last Thursday, which announced that it was stopping its operations at detention centers in Misrata because of what it described as the exposure of detainees to torture.

However, the authorities in the city were surprised by these accusations, and the head of the national security agency in Misrata, Ibrahim Beit al-Mal, rejected MSF’s allegations in an interview with Al-Akhbar, saying that the information in the report was not true.

He described the report by the organization as “mendacious” and said it had come to serve an agenda hostile to the 17 February revolution.

In contrast to the MSF report, Beit al-Mal stressed that the prisoners were treated well and received excellent care and attention, in addition to the provision of food throughout the day.

As for the national security prison, which contains 680 inmates, he explained that he has dealt with human rights organizations with complete transparency and allowed them to inspect the prison and meet prisoners without any conditions or constraints.

In the same context, the official previously responsible for the security committee prison in Misrata, Ali Aswiti, denied that there had been any cases of beating or torture inside the prison.
He said that if any such cases were uncovered, the mistreatment would most likely have occurred before the detainees were handed over to the security committee and were probably due to the actions of an irresponsible individual. He was taken aback by the decision of the organization which “ran counter to the situation inside the prison.”

For his part, the deputy chair of the National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, Abdul Basit Abu Mazairiq, asked the office of the public prosecutor to open an investigation into MSF’s “allegations” and “to hold accountable officials and pseudo-rebels who are trying to discredit the revolution.”

Abu Mazairiq, who was the official spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, spoke to Al-Akhbar on behalf of the human rights council, saying: “This council has its own character and independent financial standing, answerable directly to the legislative authorities while enjoying wide powers to monitor the performance of the government.”

He continued, saying: “Its members have the status of law enforcement officers, meaning that they can collect evidence at the scene of any crime carried out against human rights. The law requires that prosecutors provide the council with the results of any investigation referred to them by the council or any case that is related to human rights.”

Abu Mazairiq, who is a lawyer, a playwright, and intellectual, added that “among the additional functions of the council is to advise parliament on everything that relates to civil liberties and human rights and to review all laws and regulations and to recommend modifications, so that it complies with international treaties and covenants that govern human rights.”

As for MSF’s accusations, Abu Mazairiq commented that: “I cannot confirm or deny the truth of this, although I could not imagine that of any person, especially within the agencies of the transitional government. I think that if this kind of torture happened, it would have happened at the hands of one of the groups who are considered rebels and are hunting for individuals loyal to Gaddafi who participated directly in the fighting. Therefore, if these people are subjected to torture, it is usually before they have reached the security committee or the National Security Agency. During my repeated visits to places of detention, none of the detainees ever complained of mistreatment or torture.”

In terms of human rights after the revolution, the deputy chair of the national council said: “We in Libya are living through exceptional circumstances. The government has not extended its control entirely, and its agencies are still weak. There is a major role for the rebels in maintaining order. But that does not prevent the existence of a range of abuses which stem from the absence of a culture of human rights in Libya for 42 years under Gaddafi’s rule.”

However, he stressed that “the government must be tough on its members in the event that any of them violate human rights, which means what happened in Misrata is a matter that cannot be ignored. We must confirm the reasons which led MSF to stop working in Misrata and it is a matter that I will follow through on personally to find out the truth behind it.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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