At least 22 people have been sentenced to death by military courts in eastern Libya since 2018, in what Amnesty International described as “shame, torture-tainted” trials aimed at stifling dissent in the war-torn country.
The international rights watchdog on Monday said military courts “convicted hundreds of civilians in eastern Libya in secret and grossly unfair military trials”.
The trials were “aimed at punishing real or perceived opponents and critics” of forces loyal to eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Those convicted include journalists, peaceful protesters and individuals who criticised Haftar’s forces on social media.
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict since the toppling and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising a decade ago.
The country then split between two rival administrations: the UN-recognised government based in Tripoli, and its rival in the east, loyal to Haftar.
Fighting came to a halt last summer, and a formal ceasefire in October was followed by the establishment of a new unity government ahead of elections planned for December.
Amnesty said former detainees they interviewed “detailed a catalogue of abuses”, including being “abducted and detained for up to three years” before being taken to military trial.
Others said they had been “held incommunicado for up to 20 months” as well as reporting being “beaten, threatened and water-boarded”, and “forced to sign ‘confessions’ to crimes they did not commit”, according to the rights group.
Amnesty’s Diana Eltahawy said military trials were used by the eastern forces as a means of punishing opponents and creating a “climate of fear”.
Trials were sometimes held without lawyers or even the defendants present, “undermining any semblance of justice”, Eltahawy said.
“The use of military trials for civilians is a blatant smokescreen by which the LAAF [Libyan Arab Armed Forces] and affiliated armed groups are exerting their power to punish those who oppose them and instil a climate of fear,” Eltahawy said.
It was not clear if the 22 death sentences had been carried out, but Amnesty said Libyan rights groups had reported at least 31 executions between 2018 and 2020.
The new unity government “must immediately put an end to the military trial of civilians, and order investigations into torture and other crimes under international law committed by armed groups”, Amnesty said.