By Vanessa Tomassini.
“In August 2011, when the rebels entered Tripoli and Gaddafi left, we all left Libya on the same day. My father went to Niger, and we, the rest of the family, went to Algeria, from Algeria to Morocco, to Tunisia, and then to Italy. We had no idea that we would seek political asylum and become refugees. We thought it was a temporary measure and that we would then go home. But then a long time passed. During 2012, the Government of Niger offered my father political asylum. Then, during the government of Ali Zidane, my father and Saadi Gaddafi were extradited to Libya, once there, they have been detained at the al Habda prison. There they were extremely tortured.” So, tell us Ebtehal Abdullah Al-Mansour, 30, who received political asylum in Italy after being forced to leave Libya for the role that her father held in the previous system of Muammar Gaddafi. We reached Ebtehal after the latest news of Abdullah Muhammed Al Senussi’s deteriorating health after he was deprived of necessary medical care by the Tripoli Reform and Rehabilitation Institut of the Judicial Police Service at the Ministry of Justice.
Al Senussi’s daughter, Enud, preferred not to comment, stating that the Libyan authorities have asked for two days to resolve the situation without involving the media. “Until now, the doctors have not had access to my father’s cell.” On Saturday evening, she limited to say, while her sister Sarah left Cairo to Libya.
Calls by human rights organizations for political detainees to be treated with humanity have rekindled attention to a shameful dossier of Libya’s modern history. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states explicitly that prisoners deprived of their liberty should be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human personality. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights states that prisoners have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“My father have been tortured. I was shocked to know he was imprisoned in a small cell without even a space to sit, forced to standing all the time.” Ebtehal Al Mansour continues, explaining: “There are videos today in the hands of Saudi intelligence but some published online, showing Saadi Gaddafi being physically tortured. Someone also believes the photos of prisoners taken during their detention were edited with Photoshop to hide their real conditions and the signs of mistreatment in front of the international community. They wanted to show they were fine, but in reality, they weren’t. One day, Haytham Al-Tajouri (the commander of the armed group Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade) attacked and took control of Al-Habda prison. At that time, under Haytham Al-Tajouri, the inmates, including my father, were doing well. They were treated with respect; they could receive visits from their families, phone calls. They were treated with respect and dignity according to the indications of the Ministry of Justice. About two years went by, then when Tajouri went to the United Arab Emirates, another armed group attacked the prison and took control of it. To date, we do not know for sure who is keeping my father Abdullah Mansour and his companions in detention. They say they are in the hands of the Special Deterrence Force (Rada), but we’re not sure. There are different groups such as Rada, Rada one, two, etc. Since that moment, we have had no news, no phone calls or visits”.
Following a verdict of the supreme Court dated 12 may 2019, which was never implemented as a document from Ain Zara prison proves, the Ministry of Justice in the new Government of National Unity (GNU) on April 19, 2021, demanded again the release of Abdullah Mansour. Meanwhile, the Attorney General of Tripoli also confirmed that a Libyan court had cleared him of all charges, calling on competent authorities to implement this legal decision. However, Abdullah Mansour remains in prison, and the family is unable to communicate with him. Some believe that this decision has not been followed up because the government intends to use the release of prisoners from the previous regime as a weapon, a political blackmail. Others believe that his release depends on the militia that holds him under arrest, a brutal act, which, if so, should be prosecuted as they are not holding only one person hostage but the whole process of national reconciliation among Libyans.
What idea did you get, Ebtehal? Why has your father not yet been released?
“There are those who oppose the decision; I believe that militia leaders can use prisoners like my father, or like Saadi Gaddafi, to appear stronger on the ground. To make a big voice and get political favours. Having these prisoners in their hands, they believe they are being taken more seriously without having any weight on the Libyan scene. But we are not sure to date who is responsible”.
How long has it been since you last communicated with him?
“The last time I spoke to my father was about three years ago, on the occasion of my mother’s funeral. There was still Haytham al-Tajouri.”
What was your dad’s role in the Gaddafi previous system?
“ The last position he held was that of Chief of Intelligence and Security. He also served as Minister of the Media because, during the Gaddafi period, this position required a military background to protect the information in line with State policy. He also wrote a lot of songs; all Libyans love him for it. He is also appreciated in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries for his songs, regardless of his political affiliation. Many Arab singers have interpreted his songs. He grew up as an orphaned child, studying in Misrata, Sirte, Tripoli, before his military career. With my father, Libya was removed from the list of countries that support terrorism. He participated in reaching an agreement with Europe to stop migratory flows. During the Gaddafi government, my mother always chose not to be involved, to keep us out of politics. Only in middle school I know who my father was. I remember my schoolmates bringing me their files asking me to help them. I was surprised, and I had no idea. I thought he was just a songwriter.”
The Warfalla tribe has demanded the release of political prisoners like your father; what do you think?
“I don’t think the situation concerns the tribes so far; I believe rather than those who hold them can only be influenced by large international institutions such as the United Nations and that at this point, they serve one or more foreign agendas. They don’t think and act as Libyans. The Libyan situation is mostly a proxy war; I’m not sure if they think by themselves, with their minds. When he was under arrest in al-Habda, the only motivation was retaliation. You were investigating us; now we investigate and torture you. It’s just a question of revenge.”
What do you want to say to the new Libyan government?
“I ask the Ministry of Justice to show us that it acts legally. Competent authorities must execute this legal decision as soon as possible. And show the world that Libya is back on the path of legality and justice. The United Nations and the Security Council should also guarantee and put pressure on local actors and partners to ensure that all legal decisions are respected”.
This interview originally appeared on the Italian “Strumenti Politici”.