Information about human rights violations in Libya remains scarce due to continued state control of the media and the high risk associated with providing information to organizations based abroad. The print media in Libya and foreign correspondents based there rarely report on human rights violations. Lawyers, family members and friends of individuals whose rights have been violated often refrain from communicating with international organizations due to fear of repercussions.
This report is based primarily on a ten-day visit to Libya in April 2009, as well as interviews with Libyans abroad and general research on the country. During the visit Human Rights Watch met with the Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Justice (Ministry of Justice); the Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Public Security (Ministry of Interior); the head of the Internal Security Agency at the General People’s Committee for Public Security; representatives of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the acting General Prosecutor. The organization also met with lawyers, journalists, former prisoners and families of prisoners. Human Rights Watch visited one prison, Abu Salim in Tripoli, and interviewed six prisoners, briefly meeting with and confirming the detention of an additional prisoner who refused to be interviewed. Prison authorities refused Human Rights Watch requests to interview seven other prisoners
Despite three hours of negotiation with the Internal Security Agency officer in charge, Human Rights Watch was not able to secure interviews in private with any prisoners. The interviews took place in a courtyard where a guard hovered nearby to eavesdrop, refusing Human Rights Watch’s request to move further away. This affects the overall value of the testimonies. The Libyan authorities denied Human Rights Watch access to Ain Zara, the other prison run by the Internal Security Agency.
Because of the fear of compromising the security of interviewees, Human Rights Watch only met individuals in public places and only initiated contact after ascertaining the willingness of those individuals to speak to Human Rights Watch in public. Human Rights Watch conducted two interviews with relatives of victims of human rights violations in Benghazi and a further four telephone interviews with other relatives. Human Rights Watch subsequently met with two brothers of prisoners who were killed in Abu Salim in London, UK in June 2009 and in Cleveland, Ohio in August 2009.
Human Rights Watch was not visibly followed by any security officials during the visit, but it was clear that Libyan security kept Human Rights Watch under surveillance.
In June 2009, Human Rights Watch sent letters to the Secretary of Justice and the Secretary of Public Security requesting further clarification on a number of issues and outstanding questions. At the time of publication of this report Human Rights Watch had not received a response to these letters despite repeated attempts to follow up. The letters are reproduced in the Appendix.