Action urged over Libya prison deaths

A leading human rights group has called on Libya to allow an independent investigation into an alleged massacre at a Tripoli prison 10 years ago.

    Libya's leader says the security forces responded correctly

    New York-based Human Rights Watch said hundreds of prisoners were killed in Abu Salim prison on June 28 and 29, 1996, after prison security officers reportedly opened fire on inmates who had revolted over poor conditions.

    Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said the Libyan government had failed to disclose vital information on the tragedy. 

    "The government must allow an independent investigation into the incident and punish anyone found to have ordered or committed such a horrible crime," she said in a statement released on Thursday.

    Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi and other officials have acknowledged that security forces killed some prisoners, but said it was in correct response to the prison revolt.

    The head of Libya's Internal Security Agency told Human Rights Watch in May 2005 that the government had opened an investigation into the incident, but it is not clear when or if these findings will be published. 

    'Poor conditions'

    Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed a former prisoner called Hussein al-Shafa'i, who alleged that security forces killed up to 1,200 prisoners and then disposed of the bodies.

    "I was asked by the prison guards to wash the watches that were taken from the bodies of the dead prisoners and were covered in blood"

    Hussain al-Shafa'i,
    former prisoner at Abu Salim

    The former inmate, now in the US seeking asylum, said the incident began about 4.40pm on June 28, when prisoners in one section of the prison seized a guard named Omar who was bringing their food.

    Many others later escaped their cells, angered by restricted family visits and poor living conditions, which had deteriorated after some prisoners escaped the previous year, al-Shafa'i said.

    After a hostage situation was apparently mediated, security forces entered the prison and divided up the prisoners before a grenade was thrown and the forces opened fire with machine guns, he added.

    "I was asked by the prison guards to wash the watches that were taken from the bodies of the dead prisoners and were covered in blood," al-Shafa'i told the rights organisation.

    He said he calculated the number of dead by the number of meals he was told to prepare after the incident.

    Many of the bodies were then buried in a trench in the facility, but they have since been removed, he said.

    The Libyan Human Rights Solidarity, a Libyan rights group based in Switzerland, says that since 2001 the authorities have notified 112 families that a relative held in Abu Salim was dead, without providing the body or details on the cause of death.

    An additional 238 families say they have lost contact with a relative who was a prisoner at the facility.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.