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Libya: Protests Grow Despite Massacres
Feb 21, 2011 (110221)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Despite the absence of international news media and shutdowns of
the Internet, Libyan protesters seem determine to prove predictions
that "it can't happen here" to be false for Libya. A speech Sunday
night by Saif El Islam Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons and
previously viewed internationally as a voice of reform, was a
disjointed medley of threats that the only alternative to his
family's rule was chaos and poverty for the country. Again and
again, he repeated that Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia. While there
is no doubt of the regime's determination to use violence to keep
control, it is already showing signs of fragility, with defections
and the progress of demonstrations in the capital as well as in the
east of the country.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several recent reports and
commentaries: two reports from AllAfrica, a commentary by
Libyan-American dissident Najla Abdurrahman, and a report from
Human Rights Watch on the death toll from regime attacks on
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin posted today, available on the web at
http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/lib1102b.php, but not sent out by
e-mail, has a 2009 analysis of the Libyan regime on its 40th
anniversary, by veteran progressive Middle East analyst Fred
Halliday (who died in April 2010).
The interaction between social media and traditional media is
demonstrated on the live Libya blog now being hosted by Al Jazeera,
with regular updates, at http://tinyurl.com/4cn4hbh
A translated transcription of the speech by Saif El Islam Gaddafi
is available at: http://www.tweetdeck.com/twitter/exiledsurfer/~oJiWX
Ironically, as noted in a Feb. 21 article in the Christian Science
Monitor, Saif Gaddafi did his dissertation at the Lonson School of
Economics on the role of civil society in the democratization of
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Libya, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++
Libya: Citizen Journalism Leads Way in Covering Escalating
21 February 2011
As international media struggle to cover a story to which they
don't have access, Libyans both inside and outside the country
are using social media to plead for more visibility. No
independent media is tolerated in Libya, and international
journalists are being denied entry to the country.
Over the weekend, while television networks in the United States
featured experts opining on why the Libyan government would be
able to quickly quell the protests, activists were circulating
rough videos of assaults on heavily fortified military
establishments in eastern Libya. By late Sunday, thousands of
tweets were claiming that large areas of Benghazi and several
smaller cities had been "freed" by democracy activists, who were
busy organizing a new administration.
Libyans on the ground also said the protests had spread to the
capital, Tripoli, and that they believed elements of the security
forces would come to their side as fighting intensified.
Overnight, activists reported that police stations and other
government installations were under attack. A group of ethnic
leaders warned that they would block oil exports if the
government refuses to back down.
Despite periodic shut-down of the Internet over recent days,
pro-democracy activists have been using mobile phones to call,
send photos and video and updates via Twitter to contacts in
Europe and North America. In response to a plea from activists in
Benghazi, the port city where government installations were under
siege by protesters all weekend, supporters rallied in London,
Washington and other world capitals.
Reports by eyewitnesses via social media have been consistently
ahead of established news media in documenting the spread of
anti-government rebellion across Libya. In reporting on numbers
of casualties, the heavy armaments being deployed by government
forces, the use of imported mercenaries to attack demonstrators
and the extent of the unrest, the international media has lagged
significantly behind the news on the blogosphere and social
As early as Friday, activists were circulating videos of dead
African soldiers in uniform that they said were mercenaries from
Chad. On Twitter, activists were exchanging information about
flights arriving with more reinforcements for the government.
"What kind of monster would do this?" asked one democracy
supporter who reached by AllAfrica by phone. "Gaddafi is using
Libyan money to exploit the poorest of the poor - offering them
$1000 cash for each of our own citizens they murder."
Democracy activists reached by AllAfrica over the weekend warned
that the world should be more aware of increasing conflict in
Libya. They insisted that the government - which has been in
power since a 1969 coup - is vulnerable. The South Korean foreign
ministry confirmed that construction sites it was managing in
Libya had been attacked and taken by protesters. Turkey, citing
similar incidents, sent special flights to evacuate its citizens.
In response to the heavy crackdown on demonstrators, the British
foreign minister on Saturday called the Libyan government's
response "unacceptable and horrifying." The French government has
also condemned the crackdown, as has the Obama administration in
Washington. "We have raised to a number of Libyan officials,
including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, our strong
objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful
demonstrators," said U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip J
Reporters from international media have been struggling with the
ethical issues of how to use the mass of information coming from
Libya. Without independent verification, many of them have noted,
it is impossible to know who is sending the reports and from
where. But as evidence from inside Libya mounted, there is
increasing recognition that the situation warrants more
Over the weekend, more and more Libyans outside the country put
journalists in contact with their friends and families in Libya,
jamming the telephone lines - which often were the only lines of
communication open. By Monday, analysts outside were accepting
the possibility of civil war in Libya, if not of the government's
On Monday Dr. Aref Ali Nayad, speaking from Ankara, Turkey, told
Al Jazeera that he had left Tripoli Sunday as an emissary for a
group of religious scholars representing a large Libyan tribal
grouping. "In Islam," he said, "human life is sanctified." The
leaders condemn the government's use of force against
demonstrators, he said, and they want to get the word to the
The scholar said that members of the Libyan ruler's own Gaddafi
clan are among those "with integrity" who oppose the government.
He said he himself had seen the clashes in Tripoli before he
left, and that the government has killed hundreds and injured
Libya: Governments Should Demand End to Unlawful Killings
Death Toll Up to 233 Over Four Days
The estimated death toll from four days of protests in cities
across Libya has risen to at least 233 according to information
from hospital sources in Libya, Human Rights Watch said today.
From Benghazi, staff at Al Jalaa hospital said they recorded 50 dead on
February 20, 2011, while the 7 October hospital reported another 10
dead the same day, giving a total of 60 killed in Benghazi on February 20.
This raises the overall death toll from protests in five Libyan
cities to 233 since February 17. Human Rights Watch was unable to
contact two other hospitals in Benghazi.
February 20, 2011
(New York) - The African Union and African, Western, and Arab
countries that have relations with Libya should urge the Libyan
government to stop the unlawful killing of protesters, Human
Rights Watch said today. In the last three days, the death toll
of protesters reported to Human Rights Watch by hospital staff
and other sources has reached at least 173.
Accounts of the use of live ammunition by security forces,
including machine gun fire, against protesters near the Katiba in
Benghazi on February 19, 2011, resulting in dozens of deaths and
injuries, raise serious concern that the authorities are using
unjustified and unlawful force. The government has shut down all
internet communications in the country, and arrested Libyans who
have given phone interviews to the media, making it extremely
difficult to obtain information on developments there.
"A potential human rights catastrophe is unfolding in Libya as
protesters brave live gunfire and death for a third day running,"
said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. "Libya is trying to impose an information
blackout, but it can't hide a massacre."
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that at least 10,000
protesters are protesting in the streets of Benghazi on February
20, after the funerals of the 84 protesters shot dead the day
According to witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch, the
violence started on February 19 after thousands of protesters had
gathered for funeral prayers of 14 of the protesters shot dead by
security forces the day before. Followed by thousands of
protesters, the funeral procession walked from the square in
front of the Benghazi court to the Hawari cemeteries. On the way
the marchers passed the Katiba El Fadil Bu Omar, a complex that
includes one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's residences and is
heavily guarded by state security officers.
Three eyewitnesses confirmed that the security officers in
distinctive uniform with yellow berets fired indiscriminately on
protesters. One protester, A.G., told Human Rights Watch, "it was
at this stage that they opened fire on us. We were walking along
peacefully but were chanting angrily against the regime and
Another lawyer who was at the protests said to Human Rights
Watch, "I could see the men with yellow berets shooting at us
with live gunfire, and dozens fell to the ground. This went on
for a long period of time, and I left with the injured to the
hospital." Later in the afternoon, Human Rights Watch spoke to
another protester who said he had left the area because "anyone
who goes near the Katiba is shot." In the evening, thousands of
protesters were still gathered in front of the Benghazi
Human Rights Watch spoke to a senior medical official at Al Jalaa
hospital in Beghazi who said the dead started coming in at 3:00
p.m. and that by the end of the day, he had received 23 bodies.
By the morning of February 20, the number of dead who arrived at
the hospital had risen to 70. He said the deaths and the vast
majority of those injured showed gunshot wounds of 4cm x 4cm
sustained to the head, neck, and shoulders. Medical officials at
Hawari hospital in Benghazi told Human Rights Watch that they had
received 14 bodies, Human Rights Watch also confirmed the death
of at least one protester in Misrata on February 19, bringing the
total number of those killed on February 19 to 85. Human Rights
Watch calculates the total dead in four days of protests at 173.
Human Rights Watch calls on the African Union, the European
Union, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and
other governments with ties to Libya to:
- Publicly demand an end to unlawful use of force against
- Announce that those responsible for serious violations of
international human rights law must be held individually
accountable and will be subjected to appropriate measures;
- Impose an embargo on all exports of arms and security equipment
to Libya; and
- Restore access to the internet.
The Libyan government cut access to the internet on February 19
and had not restored service on February 20. Craig Labovitz,
Chief Scientist at Arbor Networks, an international network
security provider, confirmed that internet traffic in Libya
dropped to zero on February 19 at 2:00 a.m. in Libya.
A lawyer told Human Rights Watch that early on February 19,
security officers had arrested Abdelhafiz Ghogha, one of the most
prominent lawyers in Benghazi who represented the families of
those killed in 1996 in Abu Salim prison, bringing the total
number of activists, lawyers and former political prisoners
arrested since the demonstrations began to at least 17.
"In 1996, Libyan authorities killed 1,200 prisoners on one day in
Abu Salim and they still haven't acknowledged doing anything
wrong that day," said Whitson. "Today the Libyan government has
shown the world that it is still using ruthless brutality against
Libya: 'Help Us' Plea Pro-Democracy Activists Who Say Mercenaries
19 February 2011
Libyan pro-democracy protesters both inside and outside the
country are using social media to spread the word of what they
say are brutal crackdowns by the Libyan regime. They cite
numerous accounts of mercenaries roaming Benghazi and other
cities with orders to kill.
People contacted by AllAfrica say that the number of casualties
is far higher than is being reported by news agencies and human
rights groups. Human Rights Watch said yesterday that more than
80 people had been killed in clashes across the country.
"It's understandable, really," said Libyan American student Tariq
Mohamed. "It's difficult for media and human rights groups to
operate and get independent confirmation, but I'm in touch with
people who say there have been more than 90 deaths today alone in
The port city has been a focus of anti-government protests in
recent days. British Foreign Secretary William Hague today issued
a statement condemning Libyan authorities for what he called
"unacceptable and horrifying" attacks on protesters, using "heavy
weapons fire and a unit of snipers."
Mohammed, a taxi driver in Benghazi, contacted by telephone, said
he fears for his two young children. The sounds of gunfire
persisted through the evening. "It's not just shooting," he said.
He lived for nearly two decades in the United States but returned
to Libya because Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi promised change.
He did not keep that pledge, Mohammad said. He struggles to feed
his family, he said, in a country that is wealthy.
He said that he has family members on the streets and does not
know what has happened to them. They had reported being assaulted
by "foreigners" when they tried to protest peacefully. "It's
crazy," he said. "We are in a desperate situation. We have no
arms to protect ourselves. We need protection from international
Tariq Mohamed said the reports on Twitter and Facebook of a
massive crackdown are credible. He described talking on the
telephone to a contact in Libya who suddenly said, "Hold on. Hold
on. Listen!" Mohamed said that he could hear the shooting - "it
sounded almost like explosions" - through the telephone.
He said he doesn't sleep at night for fear of what is happening
to family members, many of whom have fled from Benghazi. His
contacts, he said, have confirmed the many reports that the
Libyan government is using mercenaries flown in from outside the
country to try to quell the uprising.
A number of sources in recent days have identified some of the
attackers of protesters as being from Chad, and unconfirmed
reports say others have been flown in by the government from
Bangladesh and Korea. "It is despicable," Mohamed said, "to not
only kill your own people, but to pay the wealth of the country
to incentivize others to ruthlessly and mercilessly attack them."
Tariq Mohamed and others who are relentlessly pelting social
media with ongoing messages say they have been frustrated for
many years at the lack of international media or policy attention
to the situation in Libya. "Unfortunately," he said, "it took the
disaster of a totalitarian regime mowing down its citizens to get
world to bat an eye."
Libyans are giving up their lives to overthrow Muammar
al-Qaddafi. But is anyone paying attention?
by Najla Abdurrahman | February 17, 2011
Najla Abdurrahman is a Libyan-American dissident and doctoral
student in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and
African Studies at Columbia University. She resides in New York
Protests erupted in Libya Tuesday evening in the eastern center
of Benghazi, prompted by the arrest of Libyan attorney and human
rights activist Fathi Terbil early Tuesday morning -- two days
ahead of Thursday's highly anticipated Feb. 17 "Day of Rage"
planned in cities across the country. Terbil represents a group
of families whose sons were massacred by Libyan authorities in
1996 in Tripoli's infamous Abu Salim prison, where an estimated
1,200 prisoners, mostly opponents of the regime, were rounded up
and gunned down in the span of a few hours. The victims' bodies
were reportedly removed from the prison (eyewitness accounts cite
the use of wheel barrows and refrigerated trucks) and buried in
mass graves, the whereabouts of which remain undisclosed by
Libyan authorities to this day. Several years would pass before
the regime finally began to notify some of the victims' families
of the deaths, and it wasn't until 2004 that Libyan leader
Muammar al-Qaddafi publicly admitted to the massacre at Abu
Terbil had been working closely with the victims' families, who
in recent years have asked that authorities make public the
circumstances surrounding the killings, as well as the location
of the victims' graves. After Terbil's arrest Tuesday morning,
several of the families gathered in front of police headquarters
in the city of Benghazi to demand his release. According to
sources inside the country, other Benghazi residents gradually
began to join them, and by evening the crowd had swelled, with
unconfirmed estimates ranging from several hundred to 2,000
Although Terbil was eventually released, the crowd refused to
disperse, and the protest soon transformed into an
anti-government demonstration; video showing protesters calling
for Benghazi residents to rise up began to circulate on the
Internet. Among the chants heard were "Rise up oh Benghazi, the
day you have been waiting for has come," "There is no god but
God, and Muammar [al-Qaddafi] is the enemy of God," and "The
people want the regime to fall." At one point in the evening, Al
Jazeera Arabic managed to get Libyan writer and novelist Idris
al-Mesmari on the phone during the protests in Benghazi; a
breathless and agitated Mesmari confirmed that police were
attacking the protesters before the connection was lost. Shortly
thereafter, news surfaced of Mesmari's arrest by Libyan
authorities, no doubt an unequivocal warning from the regime to
those who dared communicate with the outside world.
In the meantime, Libyans residing abroad were receiving constant
unconfirmed reports throughout the evening and into the early
hours of the morning from contacts in Libya, which they
circulated on Facebook and Twitter and tweeted to various news
outlets, including BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, and the Associated
Press. Ironically, as hundreds of Libyans inside the country
protested against the Qaddafi regime, Libyans outside the country
were protesting the media's coverage of events. A group of Libyan
activists and observers bombarded various news outlets with
frustrated emails and tweets about both the lack of coverage and
the inaccuracy of the little coverage that was given. Although
multiple videos of the protests in Benghazi were circulated, Al
Jazeera English posted a video that included footage of protests
that were more than a year old, in addition to the more recent
footage. It also initially cited the number of people killed in
the Abu Salim prison massacre as 14 -- as opposed to 1,200 --
prompting exasperated tweets demanding that the news outlet check
its facts and directing it to the Human Rights Watch report on
the Abu Salim prison massacre.
For its part, the Associated Press initially circulated a report
that induced a collective groan among Libyan observers; the
report claimed that the protests had been directed not against
Qaddafi, but against the current Libyan prime minister, Baghdadi
al-Mahmoudi. Again, Libyan activists immediately blasted the AP
on Facebook and Twitter for its irresponsible reporting, which
contradicted video and eyewitness accounts coming from the
country. Rather than actually listening to what protesters were
chanting in the videos, it seems that the AP had drawn its
information directly from Libyan state sources, albeit channeled
through Quryna, a "private" newspaper effectively controlled by
Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the leader's son.
Although both Al Jazeera English and the Associated Press amended
their reports after pressure from Libyan activists, the reporting
on Tuesday's impromptu protests in Benghazi and the lack of
information available to international media outlets are
indicative of a much larger problem that Libyans have struggled
with for decades: the creation of a virtual vacuum of information
by the Qaddafi regime's strict censorship policies, highly
restrictive press laws, and uncompromising repression of even the
slightest expression of dissent. This has created considerable
obstacles for Libyans both inside and outside the country
attempting to communicate their struggles to the world.
Libyans are painfully aware of the fact that their country does
not attract nearly the same level of interest as Egypt or Iran,
except perhaps when it comes to the eccentricities of their
notoriously flamboyant dictator. This, despite the fact that the
Qaddafi regime has been in power significantly longer than nearly
any other autocratic system, during which time it has proved
itself among the world's most brutal and incompetent. Thus, from
the moment a group of Libyans inside Libya -- taking a cue from
their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbors -- announced plans for
their own day of protest on Feb. 17, Libyan activists outside the
country have been working tirelessly to get the word out,
circulate audio and video, and pressure media outlets to report
on Libya. If the Libyan protesters are ignored, the fear is that
Qaddafi -- a man who appears to care little what the rest of the
world thinks of him -- will be able to seal the country off from
foreign observers, and ruthlessly crush any uprising before it
even has a chance to begin. Eyewitness reports to this effect are
already trickling in from Libya, and the death toll appears to be
slowly mounting. Regrettably, international attention has thus
far been minimal.
Another problem Libyans face is a lack of organization among
potential demonstrators. Even for those who have followed events
in Libya closely and are in contact with people inside the
country it's difficult to gauge from the outside how organized
the protesters are or how many people actually came out Thursday.
For many, the outlook is a pessimistic one. Libya is a very large
country with a relatively tiny population of 6.4 million
scattered throughout its vast expanse, and the distance between
its two most populous cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, is roughly
1,000 miles. In addition, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, there
exists not a single organized opposition group or political party
in Libya capable of mobilizing people to come out and protest.
Furthermore, frustration with the regime is by many accounts much
higher in the long neglected eastern regions of the country,
leading to fears that protests will not extend to the west, and
particularly to the country's major center, Tripoli (although
discontent is high there as well).
A handful of Libyans residing inside the country have released
video and audio calling on people to get out and protest,
including a Tripolitanian woman who made an emotionally charged
appeal to other Libyan women, "Rise up Libyan women! You are half
of the society. Bring your husbands and your sons out!" Only a
small percentage of Libyans have Internet access, but sources
inside the country tell me that while most people were aware of
Feb. 17, the atmosphere in Libya has grown increasingly tense
over the past days and weeks, with very few people willing to
discuss the event openly.
In the coming days, the Qaddafi regime will no doubt continue to
employ tactics meant to control the production of information
coming into or out of Libya and to obscure as much as possible
the realities on the ground -- this has long been the regime's
modus operandi. As news of the Libyan regime's violent attempts
to suppress peaceful protests continues to leak out of the
country, it is the responsibility of the international media to
be vigilant in reporting the story, and to report it accurately.
Above all, they must not rely on Libyan state media for
information and must make every effort to reach out to Libyan
netizens, activists, and opposition groups, as well as to
protesters inside the country, who are working tirelessly to
communicate the details as they unfold. Moreover, it is the
responsibility of the international community, including the
United States government, to forcefully and unequivocally condemn
the Libyan regime's attacks on peaceful protesters and to affirm
their right to organize and express their grievances just as it
has affirmed the rights of Egyptians and Iranians to do so. In
the coming days, Qaddafi will likely try to take advantage of
Libya's information vacuum to put down any uprising. If the
international media and the world don't pay more attention, he
will almost certainly succeed.
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