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Iterate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 06:11 AM
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Events of 2 years ago sparked current uprising in Libya
Events of 2 years ago sparked current uprising in Libya

A group of families in Benghazi took to the streets two years ago, laying the foundation for the current revolt

by Jo Becker

March 11, 2011

GENEVA, Switzerland - Courageous Libyans defying the repressive Gaddafi regime took to the streets not a month ago, but more than two years ago. Risking death sentences and unnoticed by most of the world, a small group of families began holding weekly demonstrations in Benghazi, the city that has become the epicenter of the uprising now sweeping the nation.

The families' protests were part of an unprecedented campaign to seek the truth about a 1996 massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Notorious for torture, Abu Salim is run by the Internal Security Agency and houses many of Libya's political prisoners. The massacre followed a prison riot over poor conditions.

The day after the riot, security guards forced hundreds of prisoners into courtyards and opened fire.

"The security officers asked for a list of sick people to take to the hospital. Then they blindfolded them and took them to the corner of the prison. They started with them. They were the first ones killed," a former prisoner who was in Abu Salim at the time said. His brother was killed in the massacre.
Former prisoners said the heavy shooting continued for more than two hours.

For years the government refused to acknowledge the episode. Families tried to make inquires about their loved ones, but were turned away by Libyan authorities or told that their family members were fine. Gradually, from other prisoners who were released from Abu Salim, they began to realize the horrific extent of the massacre. Many of the dead were from Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.

Despite Libya's repressive laws, the families began to organize to learn the truth and to demand prosecution of those responsible. In March 2007, about 30 families lodged a civil claim before the North Benghazi Court, demanding information about the fate of their family members at Abu Salim. The court, after stalling and an appeals ruling, found in their favor, but the government refused to implement the ruling.

So the families began holding public demonstrations in Benghazi - virtually the first independent demonstrations in Libya in 40 years. Every Saturday, family members gathered, holding posters with photos of their loved ones and statements such as: "Where is my father? Where is his grave? Where is his corpse?"

Under Libyan law, people can be sentenced to death for group activity considered contrary to the al-Fateh Revolution, which brought Col. Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969. The families were aware of the potential risks, but were determined to speak out.

"Every time I went to a demonstration I was preparing myself for arrest," one family member said. "But I have nothing to fear. Four of my brothers were imprisoned in Abu Salim and two of them died there. I am not afraid anymore."

Some family members were harassed and interrogated. In March 2009, four members were arrested and detained for several days, including Fathi Terbil, a young lawyer who represented the families and whose arrest on Feb.15 set off the current protests. But the families kept going, and on the 13th anniversary of the massacre, more than 200 women, men and children marched through Benghazi.

The Libyan government tolerated the families' actions since it was trying to rehabilitate its international image and end its longstanding diplomatic isolation. The families persisted, filing complaints with the United Nations, posting videos of their demonstrations on Libyan websites abroad, and issuing their demands. They won remarkable concessions: Libya's top leadership acknowledged the massacre, and officials notified over 900 families that their loved ones had died, issuing death certificates and offering about $100,000 in compensation for each prisoner killed. But many of the families refused the money, believing that they had a right to know the full details of the prisoners' deaths and that those responsible should be held accountable.

The fact that Libya's current uprising began in Benghazi is no coincidence. The remarkable organizing by these families helped lay the groundwork for the people's resistance movement. While the popular protests that brought down the governments in Egypt and Tunisia have inspired many in the Middle East to take to the streets, the families of Abu Salim were willing to defy the Gaddafi regime at a time when they had little support or chance of success.

Considering the brutality of the Abu Salim massacre, the Gaddafi government's current bloody crackdown should come as no surprise. But if the people of Libya ultimately prevail, the genesis of their success will come not only from the inspiration of Tunisia or Egypt but also from the families of Abu Salim.

Jo Becker is an advocate at Human Rights Watch and is writing about the families of Abu Salim for a book on human rights advocacy.

Published under a Creative Commons License

I couldn't help when reading this of thinking about some of the finest people I've ever known, organizing for justice in the face of impossible odds.

That isn't the point of the article though. When we're unaware of interim events and catch a hot headline, our natural tendency is to link it back to the last thing we knew, or accept the pat explanation offered by media producers. They in turn have linked their thinking to the latest that's crossed their desks; big events, like revolutions, become all about facebook, or what Obama did, or what bastard neocons will do.

All the while, the truer causes and quieter struggles are forgotten.

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Skidmore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 06:52 AM
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1. Yes, these struggles get lost in the bigger
geopolitical claptrap.
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Iterate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 09:46 AM
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2. Kick for Human Rights Watch
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Iterate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 04:59 PM
Response to Original message
3. Kick for Az Zintan, a timely update
17:57 Almanara Media An eyewitness interview with a resident from Az Zintan gives a comprehensive update on the situation right now.
Interviewer: May peace blessings and mercy of God be upon you
Eyewitness: May peace blessings and mercy of God be upon you too
Interviewer: My brother, as an eyewitness from the city of Zintan, how is the situation for you in Zintan today?
Eyewitness: The situation is shelling by Grad rockets and tanks. Bombardment is happening on civilians in a horrific way, and since this morning
Interviewer: Right, did they enter the city or?
Eyewitness: No, they are shelling from the outskirts of the city from a distance of up to 10km. They have not entered the city and God willing will not be able to. And they have been firing since this morning
Interviewer: Right, and from which direction are they coming at Zintan?
Eyewitness: They are coming in from the east
Interviewer: Didnt the regime announce a ceasefire at 9pm last night?
Eyewitness: Take it as a standard from the regime, they always announce in the evening a ceasefire but in the morning they will be destroying buildings and killing innocents
Interviewer: Have strikes against Zintan been going for a while or did they just start last night or this morning?
Eyewitness: No, it has been going on for the past 3 days, from the day before yesterday
Interviewer: And he is attacking?
Eyewintess: Attacking with rockets and heavy artillery
Interviewer: Right
Eyewitness: And he is even shelling the mosques
Interviewer: There is no power except with God. Please tell us about the number of casualties, the situation in the hospitals and medical supplies
Eyewitness: The situation in the can I put this to youthere is a big shortage in medical supplies and staff due to the blockade around the city. Hospitals arent well equipped anyways, theyre small and as you know the regime has never properly stocked them. They are generally small town/village clinics that dont have the proper equipment or medical stocks
Interviewer: Right, what about supplies?
Eyewitness: There has been a shortage of supplies, baby milk and fuel. Probably since the beginning of the revolution and it has been non-existant
Interviewer: Have the battalions and Gaddafi forces been striked by the Americans and Brits yet?
Eyewitness: Not yet. We ask them that they strike it, but they have yet to do so. There are even forces in the Northern region, from the direction of the mountain aka Al Jfara. There he has his base which houses the Grad rocket launchers and heavy artillery. Theyve been there for 2 or 3 weeks. We managed to capture one of their officers and he told us that he receives orders from Gaddafi which state that Zintan needs to be wiped off the map.
Interviewer: We pray that God wipes him before he harms a single hair from the people of Zintan.
Eyewitness: God-willing
Interviewer: Right, you as an eyewitness. What is the morale of the people and revolutionaries?
Eyewitness: I can tell you that the morale of the people is high, God-willing and things as far as the people go, they are in a good state. We will not surrender and we will destroy him God-willing
Interviewer: God-willing. What message would you like to pass to the Libyan people Khalid?
Eyewitness: I tell them to persevere and be patient as we will be victorious God-willing
Interviewer: Right
Eyewitness: And as far as the regime goes, its finished
Interviewer: Right, may God grant you victory and may He assist you and make a way out for you and protect you.
Eyewitness: God-willing, ameen
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Bluerthanblue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 05:17 PM
Response to Original message
4. K&R
Thank you for bringing this perspecive to the issue.
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