Libyan protests: 'Libyans have same right express discontent as Egyptians and Tunisians'
Amnesty International is calling on the Libyan government to end its clampdown on peaceful political activists after violence erupted at demonstrations in the city of Benghazi following the arrest of activists ahead of a protest planned for tomorrow.
Hundreds of people took part in demonstrations today following the arrests of Fathi Terbel and Fraj Esharani, both members of the Abu Salim families’ organising committee set up by relatives of victims of a prison massacre in 1996, and three other activists.
The two were leading calls for a major demonstration on 17 February in support of demands for far-reaching political reform, inspired by similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said: "The Libyan authorities must allow peaceful protests, not try to stifle them with heavy-handed repression. “Libyans have the same rights as Egyptians and Tunisians to express discontent and call for reform in their own country, and it is high time the Libyan government recognised that and respected it. “People should not be locked up simply because they call for peaceful protests. Libyans have a right to expect reforms, not arrests, detentions and further state repression.” The arrests of Fathi Terbel and Fraj Esharani - who were released after being detained for several hours - prompted an immediate popular response. Crowds gathered outside a security forces building in Benghazi calling for their release. More than a dozen people were reported to have been injured after the protestors later clashed with supporters of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi’s Shajara Square and Jamal Abdennacer street. Security forces then used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters. Malcolm Smart added: “The Libyan authorities have a responsibility to maintain public order, but they also have a responsibility to uphold human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. “The government must also rein in the security forces and make it clear to them that if they beat or otherwise ill-treat protestors or use excessive force they will be held fully to account.” Fathi Terbel, a member of the protest organising committee, told Amnesty that the arrests were linked to their calls for accountability over the deaths more than 1,000 inmates at Abu Salim prison in 1996 and for greater political and human rights freedoms in Libya.