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'Cleansed' Libyan town spills its terrible secrets

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  • 'Cleansed' Libyan town spills its terrible secrets

    12 December 2011 Last updated at 05:16 ET
    BBC News - 'Cleansed' Libyan town spills its terrible secrets

    'Cleansed' Libyan town spills its terrible secrets
    By Tarik Kafala BBC News, Libya
    Tawergha - November 2011. Tarik Kafala

    The 30,000 people living in a town in northern Libya have been driven out of their homes, in what appears to have been an act of revenge for their role in the three-month siege of the city of Misrata. So what really happened in the town of Tawergha, are the accusations of brutality against the town's residents fair and what does it say about hopes for national unity?

    "No, they can never come back… They have done us too much harm, terrible things. We cannot forgive them."

    Najia Waks, a young woman from Libya's third largest city, Misrata, is talking about the people of Tawergha, a town about 50km (31km) to the south.

    For three months between early March and the middle of May, the forces of Muammar Gaddafi laid siege to Misrata. These forces were partly based in Tawergha, and the people of the town are accused of being complicit in the attempt to put down the uprising in the city. They are also accused of crimes including murder, rape and sexual torture.
    Tawergha refugee camp, Tripoli, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala) Tawerghans are scattered across Libya in camps

    The fighters of Misrata eventually prevailed, breaking out of their battered city. Misratan brigades made up part of the force that overran the capital Tripoli in August. They also captured and killed Gaddafi and one of his sons in late October, and put the corpses on display in their city.

    In the middle of August, between the end of the siege and the killing of Gaddafi, Misratan forces drove out everyone living in Tawergha, a town of 30,000 people. Human rights groups have described this as an act of revenge and collective punishment possibly amounting to a crime against humanity.

    Tawerghans are mostly descendants of black slaves. They are generally poor, were patronised by the Gaddafi regime and were broadly supporters of his regime. Some signed up to fight for him as the regime fought for its survival.

    What happened in Misrata and Tawergha revealed one of the fault lines in Libya. It illustrates how difficult national reconciliation is going to be in some areas. It can also be seen as an example of the victors in the war that overthrew Gaddafi imposing summary and brutal justice on some of the communities that sided with the former regime and were vanquished.
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    “Start Quote
    Umm Saber, Tawergha refugee, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala)

    There is no evidence that rapes occurred... they drove us out because they want our land and homes”

    Umm Saber Tawerghan refugee
    Ghost town

    As you enter Tawergha from the main road, the name is erased from the road sign. It is now eerily silent but for the incongruously beautiful bird song. There were a few cats skulking about, and one skeletal, limping dog.

    Building after building is burnt and ransacked. The possessions of the people who lived here are scattered about, suggesting desperate flight. In places, the green flags of the former regime still flutter from some of the houses.

    Some of the buildings show the scars of heavy bombardment, some are burnt out shells, some are just abandoned. The town is empty of humans, apart from a small number of Misratan militiamen preventing the return of the town's residents.

    Those that escaped the town are now scattered across the country. As many as 15,000 people are in Hun, in central Libya. Some are in Sabha and Benghazi, and more than 1,000 are in a refugee camp in Tripoli.

    This camp, run by the LibAid humanitarian organisation, was a building site abandoned early in the uprising by the foreign construction workers who lived and worked there. It teems with women and children. There are men about, but they are very few and keep out of sight. The women are ready to talk but they want to cover their faces.
    Libya map

    Umm Bubakr can't trace one of her sons. "They bombed and shot at us and we had to run away. I ran away with my kids. I've lost a boy and I don't know whether he is alive or dead. And now we are here, with no future. We are scared, we need a solution to our problem and we want to go home."

    She says there are nightly raids by Misrata militiamen on the camp, to take away young men. They are not seen or heard of again.

    Umm Saber says militiamen claim her nephew has confessed to raping a woman from Misrata, but she swears that he does not know the meaning of the word.

    "There is no evidence that rapes occurred. They drove us out because they want our land and homes," she adds.
    Tawergha, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala) The top sign says hospital; the one indicating Tawergha is scrubbed out

    Outside in the yard, as we leave the camp, the children gather to sing a protest song about their captivity in the new, free Libya.

    People in Misrata explain what happened in Tawergha, the cleansing of a whole town, in terms of the rapes and sexual torture.

    They are in no mood for reconciliation or forgiveness. In this conservative society, rape is an unforgivable crime. The victims do not come forward and so there is no way to know the extent of the crimes.

    But the authorities in Misrata say that Tawerghans have confessed to rapes and that they have footage taken from mobile phones as evidence.
    Continue reading the main story
    Find out more

    You can learn more about what happened in Tawergha in a special report by Caroline Hawley on Newsnight on Thursday 15 December 2011 at 10:30 GMT on BBC Two
    Or catch up using the link below

    BBC NEWS - Programmes - Newsnight

    We were not allowed to see this, but the BBC was allowed to speak to a 40-year-old man who was held by pro-Gaddafi fighters from Tawergha as a suspected rebel fighter. His teeth were knocked out by a rifle butt.

    He says that he saw a series of sexual assaults - including more than 20 men suffering torture to their genitals, a man being sodomised with a stick, and Tawerghan women who worked with the Gaddafi military urinating on prisoners who had been forced to lie on the ground.

    Assuming evidence of rapes and other crimes eventually emerges, it seems that Tawerghans are being collectively blamed for the crimes of a few people.
    Tawergha prisoners in Misrata, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala) Riyadh and Osama insist they are innocent and want their day in court

    And because the people of Tawergha were largely supportive of Gaddafi, Misrata's triumphant militias seem to be holding them responsible for the far greater crimes of the former regime in its last months.

    In Misrata, workmen are converting the former state security building into a prison, floor by floor. Conditions here appear to be good, though it is overcrowded.

    The prison is clean and organised. Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), a humanitarian organisation, runs a small hospital, a pharmacy and a counselling service in the prison.

    About 60 men from Tawergha are held here. A prison warden invites volunteers to speak to us. He insists they can speak freely and there will be no repercussions.

    Torture claims
    Continue reading the main story
    “Start Quote
    Najia Waks, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala)

    No, they can never come back… They have done us too much harm, terrible things - we cannot forgive them”

    Najia Waks

    Riyadh steps forward. He insists he was not involved in rape, though he believes such things did happen. He says no-one has yet investigated his case or charged him with anything. The jail is not a bad place to be, he says, because outside it he would be in great danger. Riyadh hopes he will get his day in court and clear his name.

    He urges his uncle to come forward to talk to us. Osama is a lot less voluble, but he shows what he says are scars from a beating with a heavy electrical cable he received from militiamen in Misrata after he was stopped at a checkpoint.

    "I am innocent and want to be judged, but it is taking a long time. The people who committed crimes should be punished, not me," Osama says. "I'm obliged to stay a refugee. That's the situation. We will not be able to go home now, these people will not allow it."

    This is pretty much Najia Waks' view of the situation. Najia had to move out of her home when it was destroyed by a rocket during the siege of Misrata. She lost four relatives in the war.

    We meet her in a school on the outskirts of Misrata where she is taking part in a sewing workshop. Psychologists from MSF are also here, helping women and girls deal with the trauma of the siege they suffered.

    Najia has no direct experience of the rapes and torture allegedly carried out by people from Tawergha, but she is in no doubt that they happened.

    One of the teachers working at the school tells me that she cannot say herself if the rapes happened or not. "Everybody talks about this, but no-one really talks about it. It is too shaming," she explains.

    Some of the women have lost husbands, sons or brothers in the fighting. They are being offered training so that they can support themselves.
    Misrata school, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala) Schoolgirls dance to patriotic songs as part of attempts to help them with stress and trauma

    Children's drawings on the wall mock Gaddafi and his family. The young girls dance and sing songs celebrating victory, bravery and martyrdom - above all else, martyrdom. Pictures of dead relatives hang around their necks.

    There is no question that the people of Misrata suffered terribly in the siege - the damage from bombardment is everywhere.

    Mohammad Bashir al-Shanbah, the man who has founded the Martyr's Museum on one of the main streets in the city, says that more than 1,200 people from Misrata died in the fighting. Hundreds of people are still missing, unaccounted for.

    His museum is a kind of gallery. Pictures of all those who have died cover some of the walls. There are pictures of people killed in purges carried out in the city by the Gaddafi regime in the city as far back as the 1980s. In front of the museum, you can wander among piles of the various shells, bullets, heavy guns and grenades that were used against the city. The golden fist that once stood in Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli is here too, a trophy that families come to be photographed beside.

    Anyone who died in the cause of overthrowing Gaddafi is a martyr in today's Libya - the discourse of martyrdom is almost suffocating. Every speech opens with prayers for the martyrs, the TV stations are saturated with songs thanking the martyrs for their sacrifice. The central square in Tripoli has been renamed Martyrs' Square. The people of Misrata have adopted this language wholeheartedly.
    Misrata town centre, November 2011 (Tarik Kafala) War-torn city: Misrata suffered three months of intense siege

    In the politics of the new Libya, Misrata is striking a hard bargain. Its militiamen continue to hold onto territory and weapons taken in the fighting. Their military successes and their suffering in the war leave them feeling entitled to a share of power.

    Officials in Tripoli have said that there will be an investigation if any acts by fighters from Misrata have broken the law. But it does not appear that anyone is being held to account for the events in Tawergha.

    With the townspeople being stopped from returning to their homes, it can be argued that the abuse is continuing and being compounded.

    A striking aspect of Libya in this immediate post-Gaddafi period is that the regional or provincial centres - Misrata, Benghazi and Zintan for example - are dictating to the political centre, Tripoli, the capital and the seat of government.

    Many cities and communities suffered terribly in the war. Tawergha and Gaddafi's home town of Sirte, which was devastated by heavy shelling, are just two examples.

    But they have no voice in the new Libya, as they were on the losing side.
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway

  • #2
    Let's look at the bright side.Even if you loot 100 poor people of their belongings,it still adds to a small fortune.By now a few hundreds of ''our'' guys are richer and also free from ''tyranny''.Sounds like a win-win to me.
    Those who know don't speak
    He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Luke 22:36


    • #3
      Looting from the rich or poor should never be condoned.
      Fortitude.....The strength to persist...The courage to endure.


      • #4
        Got to love the media... provide handjobs for the Islamists then start reporting on them afterwards

        Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis face violent Islamists
        ReutersBy Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor | Reuters – 22 hrs ago
        Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis face violent Islamists - Yahoo! News

        TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Freed from Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship, Libya's Sufi Muslims find themselves under renewed pressure from violent Islamists who have been attacking them and their beliefs as heretical.

        The desecration of graves belonging to Sufi saints and sages in recent months have put the peaceful Sufis on the defensive, prompting some to post armed guards at their mosques and lodges to ward off hardline thugs.

        But the birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, one of the highpoints in the Sufi calendar, is on Saturday and Libyan Sufis are determined to take their traditional processions through the streets to show they will not be cowed.

        At a meeting of Sufi scholars to plan the celebrations, Sheikh Adl Al-Aref Al-Hadad said even being driven out of his zawiyah (Islamic school) late last year by Islamists known as Salafis would not deter him from marching.

        "I'm worried but I'm not afraid," said Al-Hadad, whose Tripoli school was stormed by armed men who burned its library, destroyed office equipment and dug up graves of sages buried there. They turned the school into a Salafi mosque.

        On January 13, extremists crashed a bulldozer through the walls of the old cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, destroyed its tombs and carried off 29 bodies of respected sages and scholars. They also demolished a nearby Sufi school.

        Sheikh Khaled Mohammad Saidan, whose Dargut Pasha Mosque faces Tripoli's port, said most Islamists in post-Gaddafi Libya disagreed with Sufis, but peacefully. "But there are no police around and you never know what some people might do," he added.


        Sufi lodges from around Tripoli will march on Saturday through narrow alleys of the walled old town, waving flags and chanting poems in praise of Mohammad to the beat of cymbals, drums and tambourines.

        To the puritanical Salafis, these practices amount to bida (innovation) and shirk (idolatry), both grave sins that must be stopped, by force if necessary.

        Sufism, a mystical strain in both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, dates back to the early days of the faith. Apart from their prayers, Sufi devotions include singing hymns, chanting the names of God or dancing to heighten awareness of the divine.

        Revered saints, scholars and holy people are buried in shrines and some are honored with annual pilgrimages. While many Islamic scholars say this is admissible, puritanical schools of Islam such as Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis or the Afghan Taliban consider it heretical.

        As pious and peaceful believers, Sufis have been easy targets for violent Islamists seeking political power. The Pakistani Taliban have attacked Sufi shrines and mosques there in recent years and Salafi attacks on Sufis broke out last year after Egypt's protesters toppled President Hosni Mubarak.


        Gaddafi had a bizarre and fickle relationship with Islam, using it when it boosted his authority but suppressing it whenever faith seemed to be the first step towards dissent. At one point in the 1980s, anyone going to morning prayers in a mosque risked arrest as a religious extremist.

        The dictator denied there was a split between Sunnis and Shi'ites. He blew hot and cold on the Prophet's birthday event known as Mawlid, sometimes limiting it in Libya but leading mass celebrations in African cities in his self-appointed role as a pan-African and pan-Islamic leader.

        Traditional religious schools were shut and religious education was reduced to a few basics about Islam and heavy emphasis on memorizing the Koran.

        Gaddafi even abolished the Dar al Ifta, the central authority for issuing religious rulings or fatwas, and Libya offered no such advice to its Muslims from 1978 until the office was restored after rebels chased him from power last August.

        "He did everything but give people carpets and say pray to him rather than Allah," one imam remarked.

        All this undermined Libya's traditional Islam, a balanced Sunni version with Sufi influences. Some Muslims began looking abroad for inspiration, especially to Saudi Arabia, and brought back a more austere Islam that mixed up the religious landscape.

        "Nobody knows anymore what they are," said Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed when asked what the majority was in Libyan Islam. "We have 42 years of Gaddafi to thank for that."


        Libya's Sufis also worry they are being outflanked politically. Many new religious officials have Salafi leanings, they say, and are appointing Salafi imams to mosques vacated by pro-Gaddafi preachers. Salafi preaching is now widespread on Libyan television and radio, they say.

        Salafis have also begun denouncing traditional imams to the authorities, prompting them to be replaced by hardliners. "About half the imams here have been replaced by Salafis," said one imam at a large Tripoli mosque where Salafis in the congregation are campaigning against celebrating Mawlid.

        Political parties are starting to form, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Libyan Salafis have not yet announced if they plan to launch a party and contest elections, as in Egypt.

        Sheikh Mohammad Jafari, whose mosque is pockmarked from the fighting over Gaddafi's Bab Al-Azizaya compound just across the street, said Sufis had to stand up for their beliefs.

        "Sufis uphold the values of love and brotherhood," he said. "We believe in dialogue and difference of opinions. We want to build a Libya of diversity."

        (Editing by Janet Lawrence)
        To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


        • #5
          Libyan Sufis mark Prophet's birthday despite tension
          ReutersBy Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor | Reuters – 4 hrs ago
          Libyan Sufis mark Prophet's birthday despite tension - Yahoo! News
          TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan Sufis staged a joyous parade through the heart of Tripoli on Saturday to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, defying radical Salafi Muslims pressuring them to scrap the centuries-old tradition.

          Chanting hymns to the beat of drums and cymbals, marchers choked the narrow alleys of the walled old town to celebrate the feast of Mawlid, a favorite event for the pious Sufis whose spirituality is an integral part of North African Islam.

          The celebrations were the first since the fall last August of Muammar Gaddafi, who kept religion under firm control during his 42-year dictatorship, and went ahead despite concerns that hardliners might attack the marchers as heretics.

          The tension between the traditional Sufis and the Salafis, a group influenced by Saudi Wahhabis and other ultra-conservative foreign Islamists, has become a key divide in Libyan politics as parties begin to form to contest free elections in June.

          "We fought the tyrant (Gaddafi) because he was a dictator and we don't want anyone like him to govern us again," said biology teacher Mohammad Aref. "We are the majority."

          Emhemed Elashhab, the sheikh (Islamic scholar) at one Islamic school where marchers assembled, said there were fewer than 2,000 violent Islamists in Libya. "All normal people are against their ideas," he said.


          Sufism, a mystical strain among both Sunnis and Shi'ites, dates back to Islam's early days. Apart from the standard prayers, Sufi devotions include singing hymns, chanting the names of God or dancing to heighten awareness of the divine.

          Sufis also build shrines to revered holy men and scholars and make pilgrimages to them. Hardline Islamists consider these practices grave sins that must be stopped, by force if needed.

          One night last month, extremists bulldozed through a wall of an old cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, destroyed its tombs and carried off 29 bodies of respected sages and scholars. They also demolished a nearby Sufi school.

          "The extremists have taken advantage of the lack of order," said Jamel Abdul Muhi, a Sufi in Tripoli. "Those who work in the dark are either bats or thieves. They are cowards."

          In Benghazi, hundreds of Sufis marched to a main square flanked by 30 armed militiamen for security. Jumaa Mohammad Al-Sharif, an Islamic school teacher, said the procession was also a protest against last month's grave desecrations.

          "We caught some people who destroyed the zawiya (Islamic school) and disrespected the graves and handed them over to the authorities, but we were surprised when we later learned they had been released," he said.

          Hisham Krekshi, deputy chairman of the Tripoli Local Council, expressed satisfaction the march was taking place peacefully despite concerns about reprisals from hardliners, who spread pamphlets in recent days urging people to shun the event.

          "This has been around for 14 centuries, you can't stop it," he said in one of the main souks, where the gold traders and cloth merchants had shut their shops for the day.


          Festivities in Tripoli began with Sufi devotions in traditional Islamic schools in the old town. At Zawiya Kabira, the largest one, men chanted rounds of rousing hymns in an incense-filled room while other distributed almond milk and biscuits to those outside.

          Boys lit firecrackers as lines of men danced out of the school and down the alleys, with women watching from balconies and doorways as the procession passed.

          "Beloved Prophet of God, be the enemy of all His enemies," was one of the slogans they chanted in Sufi-style repetition.

          At one point, marchers spilled out onto Martyrs Square, the old Green Square where Gaddafi used to address his supporters.

          Najat Al-Mughrabi, waiting with other women at a corner to watch their sons march by, said she was not afraid of the extremists. "They couldn't do anything before (under Gaddafi), how can they do anything now?" she asked.

          Even if the Mawlid holiday passes without incident, Sufi leaders say they remain concerned because many post-Gaddafi religious officials have Salafi leanings and have been appointing like-minded imams to mosques around the country.

          Salafi preaching is also widespread on Libyan television and radio, they say, which raises concerns among Sufis that they are being outflanked by a new and more political form of Islam.

          (For more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog Faithworld at FaithWorld)

          (Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Taha Zargoun in Tripoli and Mohammad Al-Tommy in Benghazi; Editing by)
          To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


          • #6
            Qaddafy is dead. That is a good outcome. Period.


            • #7
              "Qaddafy is dead. That is a good outcome. Period."

              Absolutely. Now Islam, and all its various sects abounding in Libya, can advertise itself for better and worse. Let's toss in ethnic and racial strife too. It's good for arabs and muslims to see themselves in all their glory and shame that accompanies the unvarnished light of day.
              "This aggression will not stand, man!" Jeff Lebowski
              "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." Lester Bangs


              • #8
                Not really shocking here

                Popular Libyan TV reporter killed in Tripoli jail
                Tags: journalist, News, torture, World, Libya Transitional Council, Society
                Popular Libyan TV reporter killed in Tripoli jail: Voice of Russia

                Feb 19, 2012 13:56 Moscow Time
                Djeida prison, Tripoli. Photo: AFP

                Print Email Add to blog

                A popular Libyan TV reporter, Hala al-Misrati, has been killed in a prison cell in Tripoli, the Al Arabiya television reports.

                This happened on February 17, exactly a year after the beginning of an armed rebellion that led to regime change in Libya last autumn.

                Al-Misrati openly opposed the rebels and often criticized the new authorities.

                The last time she appeared before TV cameras was in late December. She stood silently, holding a sheet of paper on “December 30” was written, her face bearing traces of beating. Those who saw that video said that she had probably had her tongue cut off.

                Fresh evidence of torture and abuse of thousands of prisoners in post-Gaddafi Libya appears almost daily.

                To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway