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Gaddafi’s victims demand justice
– by Hadija Ramadan al-Amami
© Mohammad Ali
The Libyan artist Ali Alwakwak uses old military equipment for his sculptures
I was one of those who opposed the Gaddafi regime for many years. Since late 2004, I was politically active from my internet café in Benghazi. I administered web forums for the Libyan opposition and wrote articles about assaults. Despite frequent warnings by the security police, I allowed everybody to participate in these forums.
One of the visitors of my cyber café was the young journalist Dayf Ghazal, the author of a well-known article against the regime (“Who of us is the traitor and who is the coward”). The tyrant’s henchmen killed him – but first they cut off his fingers. I told his story on the web, and I collected all information, photos and videos that bore witness to the dictatorship, in order to show the truth to the whole world. For instance, I covered street incidents during an uprising in Benghazi in 2006, and later in Tobruk. Gaddafi always crushed the protests.
I belonged to those who joined the net activist Jalal Kuwafi on Facebook in October 2010, calling for the Day of Wrath. Social networks opened up new possibilities and helped to trigger the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Everyone who was interested watched the developments in those days closely. People were eager to do something. Long before the rebellions started, Facebook played a decisive role in the networking between political activists. We didn’t rely only on Facebook, but also distributed leaflets and called for marches on the Day of Wrath.
Murders at university
I was under great pressure, because I worked at Garyounis University in Benghazi. Gaddafi’s security apparatus had this public university totally under control, to an extent that you couldn’t call it an institution of learning any more. Many students were executed on campus, accused of opposing the regime. Their classmates were forced to watch these murders, while Gaddafi’s cohorts chanted: “This is the punishment for all who dare to challenge the leadership of Gaddafi or the revolution of 1st of September!”
Plainclothes female officers of the secret police worked at the university and collected information about staff members. I was arrested several times. The shortest time of imprisonment was seven days; the longest three months. I was incarcerated repeatedly, almost permanently. Moreover, I had to report to the regional security service of Benghazi every Saturday, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the city.
Democracy and the rule of law belong together. The crimes of the Gaddafi regime have to be investigated. But at present, the judicial system in Libya has no legislative basis. Up to now, the victims of the dictatorship cannot sue their torturers. Many of the culprits fled the country after the revolution, fearing their victims’ reactions.
The National Transitional Council did request the extradition of the wanted persons from the states where the criminals had found refuge, but without exerting any real pressure. Negotiations with Tunisia resulted in the extradition of al-Mahmudi al-Baghdadi – to the great satisfaction of the Libyan public. Al-Mahmudi al-Baghdadi was one of Gaddafi’s ministers, and had given orders for torture and killings during the Libyan revolution. On top of that, he allegedly embezzled public funds.
One of the wanted whose extradition is publicly demanded is Abdallah as-Senussi. He was one of the persons responsible for a massacre in June 1996, when 1200 prisoners were killed within half an hour during a revolt in Abu Salim jail. Libyans call this maximum security prison near Tripoli the “Arab Bastille”. Many political prisoners were locked up there, and many were murdered. But of the wanted henchmen of Gaddafi, neither the fugitives nor the arrested have been brought to trial. This, of course, is a cause of anger and permanent debate. The people are dissatisfied with the efforts of the Transitional Council and its administration.
Gaddafi’s victims insist on punishment of the criminals. The culprits should not go free, but must be held accountable for their deeds. The people crave justice, but the transition council has not done anything to prosecute the crimes of the dictatorship. This state of impunity makes some people say openly that they will seek revenge on their own, if trials will not lead to justice.
Need for action
I am writing this article shortly after our new interim National Assembly has been elected. In my opinion, this Assembly, and the interim government which it will appoint, need to take the rage on the streets seriously. The accused should be apprehended and detained, until the necessary judicial bodies have been installed. Only through truth can justice finally rule society.
Citizens must see that the time has come for justice to be enforced, so they will turn to the judicial system instead of looking for individual solutions. There is no other way for us to leave the terrors of the past behind us. The Libyan people will not forget their rights and continue to demand they come true. This is obvious to anyone who studies related Facebook pages and how citizens in general react to this topic. At the moment, however, Libya’s judiciary is paralysed.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it was part of Gaddafi’s interior politics to kill politically active intellectuals who threatened to his rule, or to force them into exile. Long years of tyranny have planted the seed of destructive revenge in the souls of people.
If the government does not end the present state of impunity, there will be a battle between Libyan brothers. I think all citizens should dedicate themselves to the reconstruction of Libya and concentrate on the wellbeing of future generations. For a better future to become possible, Libyans must insist on their rights in a civilised way, with no consideration of personal revenge. As far as I’m concerned, I simply want those who arrested and abused me to be put on trial. But I won’t take the law into my own hands. I totally trust the judicial system of a democratic Libya to redress me, without getting my hands dirty. In any case, the international community has to support Libya in its task of coming to terms with the past.
Hadija Ramadan al-Amami