The Libyan authorities must urgently investigate the death of a soldier who was tortured to death last week following ten hours of interrogation by his own army unit, said Amnesty International.
Hussein Radwan Raheel, 37, who served with the Saiqa Forces, an elite army unit, was severely beaten and subjected to electric shocks, family members have told Amnesty. A forensic report and photos of his body seen by the organisation also indicate that he was tortured.
According to the forensic report, Raheel died after he was repeatedly beaten and given electric shocks causing heart and circulatory failure. He had bruises on his nose, face, chest, back and limbs as well as electric shock marks on his arms. After he was tortured, Raheel was allegedly held in a cargo container without a mattress or blanket and with no access to medical care. He was found dead the next morning, and his body was transferred to Tripoli Medical Centre.
Raheel’s family was informed of his detention by a friend, who told them that officers from his unit arrested him after he reported to the Military Compound of the Saiqa Forces in Tripoli at about 11am on 1 December. One of his commanding officers confirmed to his family that he was interrogated about the disappearance of a military vehicle from the compound.
At no point during his detention were his family allowed to visit or speak to him on the phone and the family only learned through personal contacts that Raheel had died. After confirming his identity, the family reported his death to Hadba police. His body was referred for forensic examination by order of the prosecution.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“An independent, impartial civilian-led investigation into the death of Hussein Radwan Raheel must be carried out and its results made public. Those responsible for his death must be held to account to show that torturers will not be granted free rein in Libya today.
Amnesty International fears that a military investigation will lack transparency and independence and will only lead to whitewashing abuses.
“Torture and ill-treatment were routinely used by the state to terrorise the Libyan people under al-Gaddafi’s brutal rule. The Libyan authorities must show that the country has made a clean break with the past by sending a strong message that human rights violations by state officials will no longer be tolerated.”
The Saiqa Forces
The Saiqa Forces are Libya’s Army Special Forces, formed of commandos who report directly to Libya’s Army Chief of Staff and the Ministry of Defence. The Saiqa Forces were first created in Benghazi in 2010, and began operating in the west of the country only after the 2011 armed conflict ended. The forces are made up of former al-Gaddafi soldiers, but also former militia members who were allowed to integrate the institution at the end of the conflict.
In September the Libyan Prime Minister praised the Saiqa Forces, saying that they will represent “the birth of the new Libyan army. Any international efforts to support the rebuilding of the Libyan security sector or to train Libyan soldiers must also emphasize the respect for human rights principles.
Two other members of the Saiqa Unit, including 23-year-old Mohammad Faraj Tarhouni were detained on the same day and were held under interrogation for a week. Both were referred to the military prosecution on 8 December and are currently held in a Military Prison in Tripoli. Amnesty fears that they might have also been tortured or ill-treated.
Torture in Libya
In April, Libya’s General National Congress enacted a law on torture, enforced disappearances and discrimination, which sets a minimum prison sentence of five years for anyone found guilty of inflicting physical or mental suffering against anyone detained under their authority with the aim of eliciting a forced confession. A life sentence is prescribed for cases where torture results in death. Officials at the Ministry of Justice acknowledged to Amnesty in a meeting in August that no one had been prosecuted under the torture law since it was enacted in April.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya has documented 11 cases where evidence suggests that detainees were tortured to death between January and October this year, while between September 2011 and July 2012 Amnesty documented 20 cases of deaths in custody supported by medical records and forensic reports. Earlier this year Amnesty visited 27 detention centres across the country, including state prisons, those under nominal state oversight and those run by militias. Amnesty found that torture and ill-treatment remain widespread in some places of detention and is systematic in others. Detainees are especially vulnerable to abuse during the first few days following detention.