Canada rejects asylum seeker deported to torture in Libya

By:Sandra Contenta

Canadian officials are washing their hands of an asylum seeker who was tortured when Canada deported him and his family to Libya, while it was still in the clutches of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Adel Benhmuda learned this week that his application to return to Canada with his family, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, was rejected by immigration officials.

Adel Benhmuda, his wife Aisha, and their children — including Adam, left, and Omar — were deported to Libya in 2008 after their claim for refugee status in Canada was rejected. The family was granted that status in Malta, but say their future is in Canada.

“It’s a real shock, especially for the kids,” said Benhmuda, whose two youngest sons were born in Toronto. “Tears are everywhere.”

Benhmuda, his wife, Aisha, and his four sons spent eight years in Canada. They were deported in 2008 after their claim for refugee status was rejected. Benhmuda was detained on arrival in Tripoli and jailed for a total of six months on two separate occasions.

During that time, he says, prison guards regularly bound his bare feet, strung him up in the air and beat his soles with batons and electrical wires. The family then fled to the island of Malta and was granted refugee status. Last February, the United Nation’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, formally asked Canada to resettle them as refugees.

Benhmuda’s Toronto lawyer, Andrew Brouwer, said rejecting the family’s request to return is particularly outrageous given that Canada effectively deported Benhmuda to torture.

“That’s on the hands of the Canadian government,” Brouwer said. “They have blood on their hands.”

“It’s crazy,” he added. “It’s a clear-cut humanitarian and compassionate application, and the refusal is completely unsustainable. We have a family with two Canadian-born kids, they were well-established in Canada, and (Benhmuda) has offers of work here.”

The family’s hopes were rekindled when — after the Star revealed their ordeal — the NDP raised the case in the House of Commons in June. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted that Canadian governments do not deport people to torture, and defended Canada’s asylum system as the fairest in the world.

Kenney added, however, that his officials would give the family’s request to return to Canada “every humanitarian consideration” possible, and do so quickly.

At the end of September, an immigration officer from the Canadian embassy in Rome interviewed the Benhmudas in their small apartment in Malta. Rejection came in a Nov. 8 letter — received by Benhmuda’s lawyer on Nov. 21.

“After consideration of your application and the supporting information provided, I have concluded that humanitarian and compassionate considerations do not justify granting you an exemption from any applicable criteria or obligation of the (Immigration and Refugee Protection) Act,” says the letter, signed by S. Finall, first secretary for immigration at the Canadian embassy in Rome.

The letter does not address the torture Benhmuda says he suffered in Libya, but notes that he now benefits “from the protection of Malta,” where he obtained asylum. It ends with the phrase: “Thank you for the interest you have shown in Canada.”

Brouwer is now appealing directly to Kenney, asking the minister to overturn the decision of his officials and to allow the Benhmudas back.

Asked if Kenney might review the decision, his spokesperson, Candice Malcolm, said: “It’ll depend, I guess, if the case is brought to his attention, and what the facts are.” She said the department would be willing to say more about the case if Benhmuda signed a form consenting to the disclosure of private information.

In a telephone interview, Benhmuda says his sons — aged 8 to 16 — were so upset by the news they were unable to go to school.

“I want to go back for the future of my kids,” says Benhmuda, 43. “Canada is the country they grew up in. It’s the culture they know. It’s the country they love.”

Particularly upsetting to Benhmuda is how Canadian authorities deported him and his family. First, they concluded it was safe to return them to Libya, a country long known for its atrocious human rights record, a country Canadian and NATO warplanes bombed to help rebels get rid of Gadhafi.

Then they refused to let them carry their own passports and case file. They gave the documents to the crew of the commercial airline, and the crew handed them to Libyan authorities on arrival in Tripoli. It was like waving a red flag.

While beating him in jail, guards would accuse Benhmuda of shaming Libya by applying for asylum in Canada. After 18 months, he bribed his way out of Libya and landed with his family in Malta in 2010 after a roundabout route. They spent the first nine months on the Mediterranean island living in a cargo container in a refugee camp.

Benhmuda has been unable to find work. His children are struggling to learn Maltese, and they sleep on mattresses on the floor in one room. Adam, the youngest, suffers from asthma, and Moawiya, 14, from muscular dystrophy. Both were under regular medical care in Canada.

The island of 400,000 is under increasing pressure from African migrants and refugees landing on its shores. It has no refugee integration policy, and racism creates “an environment of fear, tension and mistrust,” the UNHCR says.

Benhmuda first fled Libya in 2000, after being roughly interrogated “10 to 15 times” by police wanting to know the whereabouts of his younger brother, Abu Baker. The brother belonged to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gadhafi organization that officially joined Al Qaeda in 2007 before cutting off ties two years later.

During the revolt that overthrew Gadhafi, LIFG members were represented in the rebel force’s Transitional National Council, which Canada officially recognized.

Benhmuda and his family arrived in Toronto after paying a smuggler $2,000 for a student visa to Canada. While his refugee application was being considered, he worked at two jobs, driving a truck at night and working in an optical lab by day. His wife, Aisha, volunteered at her children’s Mississauga school.

A refugee tribunal decided it did not believe Benhmuda’s story of repeated harassment and rough interrogation by Libyan police.

“I will never forget what Malta has done for us,” Benhmuda says, “but there is no future for us here. Our future is in Canada.”

Source: The Star

Dental records for Hana Gaddafi reopen mystery of Libyan leader’s daughter

By James Kirkup

Files stored in a basement room in one of London’s most expensive districts could shed new light on one of the greatest mysteries of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya: the alleged death of his baby daughter.

The documents were found in the Libyan Embassy in Knightsbridge this week after rebels fighting to end Gaddafi’s reign formally took possession of the “People’s Bureau”. They disclose a London dentist’s work for the Gaddafi regime, reopening the mystery of the daughter the Libyan leader claims was killed in a US bombing raid.

Stephen Hopson refused to discuss his dealings with Libya

The Daily Telegraph has seen the papers. They show that in 2008 Libyan officials in London arranged for the dentist, Stephen Hopson, to fly to Tripoli to treat a patient called “Hana Ghadafi”.

Hana was the name of the baby daughter that Gaddafi claimed was killed in the US air strike on Tripoli in 1986. The attack is said to have led the dictator to order terrorist reprisals, including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Hana Gaddafi’s death has never been verified, and many Libyans believe she actually survived the 1986 attack and still lives in Tripoli.

In 2008, the Libyan ambassador, Omar Jelban, personally arranged a business class flight to Tripoli for Mr Hopson.

The dentist declined yesterday to give details of his patient or discuss his professional dealings with the regime. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on his part, but the documents will revive speculation about the dictator’s daughter.

They show the Libyan embassy arranging for Mr Hopson to visit Tripoli in April 2008. In a fax to Mr Jelban, the dentist said he would be treating a patient he identified as “Miss Hana Ghadafi”.

It reads: “This is to confirm that I will be visiting Tripoli to treat Miss Hana Ghadafi this coming weekend. I will need a return plane ticket leaving the morning of Saturday 19th April and returning to London on the afternoon/evening of Sunday 20th April.”

There is no agreed way of rendering Arabic names into Roman script, meaning that Western spellings of Libyan names vary.

Also on April 14 2008, the Libyan ambassador instructed a London travel company to arrange flights for Mr Hopson, at the Libyan government’s expense.

Mr Jelban wrote a signed letter to Arab Tours asking them to issue the dentist with business-class British Airways tickets for the dates he requested. “Please send your invoice for settlement, with a copy of this letter, to the Libyan People’s Bureau in London,” he wrote.

Asked about Miss Gaddafi and the Libyan trip, Mr Hopson said he was “neither admitting or denying” anything. He said he could not give any details about his patient.

“There’s an element of patient confidentiality and if you were a patient, you wouldn’t want me revealing anything about any care that you had received and that’s why I can make no comment about any of this” he said.

Asked if his patient was Col Gaddafi’s daughter, Mr Hopson said: “It’s possible perhaps there could be a second Hana Gaddafi. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.”

This week, Die Welt, a German newspaper, reported that Gaddafi’s daughter is alive and well and living in Tripoli.

Hana Gaddafi is thought to have been born in November 1985 and adopted by the Libyan leader shortly afterwards. Since her alleged death, a number of reports have suggested that she survived and remains close to Col Gaddafi.

In 1999, the official Chinese state news agency reported the presence of a Hana Gaddafi at a lunch her father held for Nelson Mandela.

This year, the Swiss froze assets linked to the Gaddafi family, including assets held under that name. Miss Gaddafi was reported to have lived in London as a teenager before studying medicine in Tripoli and working for the health ministry.

The embassy’s files contain numerous other documents relating to trips arranged to Libya by officials, but few involved Mr Jelban directly.

A Libyan government official on Friday night claimed that Hana is a second adopted daughter taken on by Col Gaddafi after the first one was killed in the 1986 bombing.

“This not an important issue when we have children dead and Nato bombing civilians in our country,” a Tripoli official said. “The Daily Telegraph should concentrate on these important issues.”

Source: Telegraph

Armed militia members haven’t been integrated into new Libya

In an abandoned house on a rocky escarpment perched high above Tripoli’s coastline, a lone teenage fighter sat in his pickup, armed with a pair of Kalashnikov rifles.

Abdullah Ghurah, 19, came from the city of Zintan, high in Libya’s western mountains. Like many young men who belonged to the brigades of revolutionary fighters that stormed Tripoli in August, he is still here with his band of militiamen.

Libya’s civil war is over, but the country is full of men such as Ghurah, members of independent militias who have not been reintegrated into normal life or absorbed into the new national army.

Libya’s civil war is over

Throughout the capital, there are checkpoints manned by brigades of fighters who use trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons even though the city was liberated from government forces in August.

Libya’s new leaders say it will be difficult asserting authority over these brigades, some of which worry that the revolution can be reversed, and persuading them to disband.

“Those who want to … can join the national army and will be given proper training,” said Abdelrahman Busin, the military spokesman for the National Transitional Council. He acknowledged that there was an unwillingness among some fighters to put aside their weapons.

“A lot of people are concerned about the revolution being stolen from them, and until the government can prove that they are working in their best interests, they won’t lay down their arms,” he said.

No one knows how many men took up arms, but estimates range from 125,000 to 150,000, Busin said. The Interior Ministry plans to give jobs to 20,000 of these men in new security forces. Another 20,000 are to get positions in border security.

That leaves many others without jobs.

Many of the militias are groups of civilians who took up arms and organized themselves locally – naming their brigades after the towns or regions they come from. These bands of independent fighters greatly outnumber the units from Moammar Gadhafi’s army that defected and joined the revolutionaries.

For many, disbanding would mean conceding some of the status they won on the battlefield and handing over control to the politicians running Libya, an unelected council of technocrats.

Fighters from the western city of Misrata, where some of the bloodiest battles of the civil war took place, continue to patrol parts of the country, including Tripoli, Sirte and the south. Fighters from the city are holding on to their weapons.

“Misrata has not decided to surrender weapons unto the government,” said Ismail Zoubi, a young man from the Tiger brigade.

“We all agree that we have to take these weapons out of the street,” said Mohammed bin Rasali of the Misrata city council, “but for the revolutionary fighters to hand in their weapons to an unelected government, I think that these weapons should be handed to an elected government.” He points out that Libya’s National Transitional Council is a self-appointed body.

Rasali said he has seen no programs to reintegrate fighters into normal life. “They (revolutionary fighters) right now are in a state of shock, and once they do emerge, they will be very hard to please,” he said.

Throughout the capital, young fighters spoke of their disorientation as they try to adjust to normal life after months at the front line.

“I saw things that I can never delete from my life,” said Mouad Beitru, 20, an architecture student who joined a brigade at the beginning of the revolution. “One day you’re happy, one day you’re sad, one day you’re mad, one day you’re crazy. We’re watching movies now, but we saw it live.”

Part of the problem is that Libya has never had a truly professional army. Gadhafi, who himself took power in a military coup as a junior officer, mistrusted his officers and would try to balance power among various military outfits.

“Gadhafi didn’t like the army before, he just made brigades for his sons and himself,” explained Fouad ben Shabban, a fighter from the town of Zintan who manned a checkpoint in downtown Tripoli. “The army was very bad, but now we’re trying to make it better.”

Not all fighters are unwilling to turn in their arms.

Abdul Basset Hussein showed a certificate he received for turning in his weapon. He hopes others will do the same.

” I want to deliver a message to the world: Don’t be afraid, we are not fighters,” he said.

Source: USA Today

Libya Chooses New Prime Minister

By MARGARET COKER

The Libyan National Transitional Council has chosen a Tripoli businessman to head the interim governing authority and help shepherd the country’s political transition from its Gadhafi-era dictatorship to its first elections.

Abdul Rahmin El Keeb won a simple majority of the votes cast by the 54 members of the NTC, beating out several other candidates who had been culled from the running after they lost in earlier rounds of voting Monday evening.

Newly elected Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Rahmin El Keeb is congratulated by National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil (R) at the end of a public vote in Tripoli.

Mr. Elkeeb spent many years in exile outside Libya, but played a significant role in financing the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi and organizing the underground rebellion inside Tripoli this summer, when the capital was struggling to shake off the tight grip of the regime’s troops and intelligence agents.

He will take the place of Mahmoud Jibril, who has headed the rebel-led governing authority throughout the revolt and is credited with receiving foreign recognition for the NTC and building tight relationships between the NTC and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries.

Mr. Elkeeb is expected to form a new cabinet in coming days, while the NTC legislative body discusses a formula to expand its ranks from its current number to at least 70 members, according to Libyan officials.

The NTC is now in a period of expansion, bringing in representatives from all parts of Libya, including areas of the country that won independence from the Gadhafi regime early in the struggle that began in February and areas that were the last to fall, such as the former ruler’s hometown of Sirte, which the NTC fighters gained control of only two weeks ago.

Mr. Jibril, the departing prime minister, has suggested increasing the size of the legislative body to 120 members to include both regional representatives as well as officials from key segments of society, such as women, young people and the military councils that control security in each Libyan municipality.

Source: WSJ

For Amal, life (re)begins at 75

By MICHEL COUSINS

Since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, over 180 independent newspapers have sprung up in Libya, like flowers in the desert after a rare downpour. Like desert flowers, most will die.

Yet a few that aren’t simple opinion sheets, which instead contain news and features and are more professionally run, will survive. One such is Al-Kalima (The Word) and one of its regular contributors is Amal Omar Shennib.

Left to right: Wanis Gaddafi, Omar Shennib and Amal Omar Shennib.

Born in 1935, she is not only the oldest Libyan woman writer but also the first. At age 15, before the country gained independence, she wrote for a magazine simply called Libya. Today, she often writes about the lost Libya, the Libya that Qaddafi hated and in true Stalinist style erased all reference to in books and the media: The Libya between independence in 1951 and 1969 when he seized power and abolished the monarchy.

“We knew nothing about that period; we’re only finding out about it now,” said Abdel Halim, a young Libyan university student whom Arab News later met in downtown Tripoli.

He recounted what had happened when he had visited the former royal palace there (now a museum) earlier this year while Qaddafi was still in control of the city. (The building in fact had started out as the Italian governor’s palace during the colonial period.) “I asked why there was nothing about King Idris. The guides told us they were forbidden to mention him.”

It is a story heard time and again in Libya: Young people who rose up and overthrew Qaddafi, craving to find out about the hidden past and reconnect with it.

For young Libyans, Amal provides a bridge to that past. She was intimately associated with it. Her husband, Wanis Gaddafi (no relation), was the last prime minister under King Idris. Her father, Omar Faiek Shennib, helped negotiate Libya’s independence and was head of the Royal Court as well as minister of defense in the first post-independence government. His more lasting claim to fame is that he designed the tricolor star and crescent flag that served Libya during the period of the monarchy and is now the icon of the new Libya.

Hers is a remarkable story of courage and endurance, not least because of what she and her family suffered under Qaddafi: Her husband in jail for two years, his health broken; her oldest son Majid forced to flee for his life to the US in 1977 and unable to return until 1994; her younger son Mohsen, Qaddafi’s youngest political prisoner, arrested in 1981 aged 13 and held for seven years; her brother, Abdul-Aziz Shennib, a commander in the pre-1969 Libyan army arrested in the first days after Qaddafi seizing power and imprisoned for four and a half years. He was later released and sent as ambassador to Jordan, but it was no gesture of reconciliation with the old regime. Abdul-Aziz had been at Sandhurst with King Hussein and he had orders from Qaddafi to assassinate him. Once in Amman, he told the king of the plot. He joined the opposition and later, at a press conference in Cairo, revealed that Qaddafi had murdered Lebanese cleric Musa Sadr.

Standing outside her modest house in Benghazi, no one could imagine the wealth of history within Libya. On the grand piano in the sitting room, there are silver-framed photos of her father, in dark suit and fez, like Egyptian ministers of the period, accompanying foreign dignitaries. On the table beside the sofa is a silver cigarette case with her husband’s initials “WG” on it. Other objects in the room carry the same initials.

The Libyan flag designed by Amal’s father Omar Shennib.*

Offering tea and cakes, Amal tells her story. She was born in Damascus where her family was in exile because of her father’s support for the freedom movement against the Italians. Back in Libya, following the defeat of the Mussolini’s forces and the country now under British military administration, she went to school where she did so well that in 1955 she was offered a place at university in Egypt. She hoped to be a doctor. At the time, she was already working as a schoolteacher, a job she continued for the next 17 years. Marriage to Wanis Gaddafi in 1956, however, put paid to her medical ambitions. She went to university in 1960 to study history and Arabic and graduated in 1964, when she became headmistress of a girls’ school.

Born in 1922 in Benghazi, Wanis was a bright star in the new independent Libya. During the Italian period, he had come to the attention of an Italian lawyer who trained him for the law. The British took over in 1942 and the young Gaddafi who became involved in the Benghazi city administration soon came to their attention. After the war, he was the offered a scholarship to Oxford but never took it up because he was recruited by the British to help in Cyrenaica’s political administration — the first Libyan they recruited. After independence in 1951, Wanis served as a provincial minister in Cyrenaica, successively of health, justice and transportation. Later, he became chairman of Cyrenaica’s executive council. In 1962, he was appointed Libyan foreign minister. Thereafter, he served in almost all Libya governments in a variety of posts apart from a brief stint as Libyan ambassador to Germany in 1964/1965. In 1967, he became foreign minister for the second time, and then, in September that year, he was appointed prime minister, a post he held until his namesake seized power a year later, on Sept. 1, 1969.

Her son, Majid, produces the formal letter from King Idris, formally appointing his father prime minister. He also produces a letter of potentially greater import. It was found among his father’s effects after Qaddafi had arrested him. It is a letter, in Arabic, from what was then the six-member European Economic Community purportedly inviting Libya to become an associate member. This was at a time that France was vetoing Britain’s attempts to join.

Two days after the coup — “it was not a revolution, it was a seizure of power,” Amal says forcibly — a soldier came to their small flat and arrested her husband. “We did not have palaces like he (Qaddafi) did.” Another forceful point.

Four months later, he was released. “He was told to stay at home,” Amal says. It was house arrest. “He said he would not go out but could not prevent anyone coming to visit us. So, they put soldiers on the door to stop anyone coming.”

In 1970, he was re-arrested and accused of letting the king leave Libya just before the coup. “How could he stop him? Idris was the king,” Amal says. The logic was wasted on the new regime. They were determined to imprison him.

The king’s departure before the coup remains the source of great speculation and conspiracy theories. Idris, a devout ascetic who lived a simple life, was not interested in day-to-day politics and had previously tried to abdicate. However, great pressure had been put on him to stay. By summer 1969, he had made up his mind. He left the country in July for Greece, ostensibly for a holiday, and in August, he issued an instrument of abdication from Athens to come into effect on Sept. 2 in favor of his nephew, Crown Prince Hassan. He then went to Turkey for medical treatment.

However, the man who was effectively chief of staff, Col. Abdelaziz Shelhi, who with brother Omar had been treated by the king as the sons he never had, had other plans. He planned a coup for Sept. 5. However, it was preempted by Qaddafi’s coup on Sept. 1. The problem was that Shelhi’s coup was widely known — so well known that when the crown prince was arrested, he reportedly asked if those arresting him were Shelhi’s men.

Those conspiracy theories, however, center around a more dramatic suggestion that the British, who had major military bases in Libya and who were very close to the Libyan army high command, backed Shelhi. They supposedly felt that a Libya led by the crown prince would soon fall into the hands of Nasserites and become a client of Egypt, and through it, the Soviet Union. They saw Shelhi as able to lead a pro-Western Libya.

The second part of this conspiracy is that the captains’ coup which preempted that of the senior officers’ was backed by the CIA. There is no evidence — although, interestingly, Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum became a close friend to the new regime. But then Hammer had some strange friends.

Amal still retains great affection for the late king. “He was a father to me.” She recalls a particular debate in 1962 when Libya amended its constitution to become a unitary state and the issue of women being allowed to vote was being hotly debated. Two politicians went to the king to put opposing cases: that women should be allowed to vote in elections to parliament, and that they should not. “The king listened,” Amal recounts, “and then said: ‘You are both wrong. They should not only be allowed to vote, they should be allowed to stand for parliament.’”

Wanis was jailed for two years for “permitting” the king to leave, and it broke his health. In 1974, at age 52, he suffered a heart attack, but was refused permission to leave the country for treatment. Amal had already quit her job as headmistress of the high school that she had helped found in 1961 in order to look after him.

Resigning had not been easy despite the new regime’s purge of all schoolteachers connected to the old one, which offered five years’ extra pension rights if they would go. Yet, when she submitted her resignation, triggered by the new regime’s decision that high school girls must wear army uniforms (something that continued in Tripoli until just weeks ago), it was refused. She was forced to stay on for another year until a replacement could be found, but without pay. Nor did she ever receive the five years’ extra pension rights.

In 1977, Amal’s eldest son, Majid, left for the US. He had been involved in the anti-Qaddafi demonstrations the previous year at Benghazi’s Gar Younis university. They had been crushed mercilessly with students killed or jailed. “The system was so much stronger than we were,” he said. “We had to leave.” He went to Portland where he studied engineering. He is grateful to the Americans. “The US was very kind to me. They helped me a lot.”

Her younger son, Mohsen, had a more horrific experience. In 1981, at age 13, he became involved in a plot against Qaddafi. The plot was discovered and its leaders executed. Others were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mohsen was jailed. He spent his 14th birthday and the next seven years in jail, as Qaddafi’s youngest political prisoner.

In 1986, Wanis Gaddafi died. For Amal, it was a terrible time. Her eldest son was far away with no prospect of ever returning, and her youngest son was in jail. He was released in 1988 but was watched continuously; it was clear that the regime had him in its sights. The family decided he had to get out of the country. He was smuggled into Tunisia, just in time. After he left, the police arrived at the house intent on arresting him. From Tunis, he headed to Egypt to resume his education but when Qaddafi normalized relations with Egypt in 1989, the Libyan opposition there felt threatened. Mohsen went to the US to join his brother.

Slowly, the system relaxed somewhat. In 1994, Majid returned to test the waters. Mohsen followed soon afterward. The family was reunited, but for Amal, there were still restrictions. She lived out of the public eye. She was not allowed to write or be published.

Then, in February, freedom came and the gentle Amal became an unlikely revolutionary. On the “Day of Rage,” called by the opposition for Feb. 17, she was there outside the Court House, the focus of the revolution. “I cried when I saw the flag, which my father designed.” It was a cold day, says her son Majid. “I was afraid she would catch cold.”

But she would not leave. “I started working immediately,” she says, writing a column for Kalima every week.

So, what are her hopes for the future? Where does she see Libya going? “I hope for the best. Anyway, we got rid of that man. At least we have our identity back,” she says.

She has no illusions that everything will be plain sailing from now on. “It’s a difficult time now,” she says, “but the difficulties will pass. We must be patient. It will take time. We cannot go back to the past, but we can now go forward.”

A woman of great dignity and deeply inspiring, she does not intend to stop writing. “I’m now an old woman, but still very active,” she says with a sparkle in her eyes.

An old woman, perhaps, but one with a very young heart.

The different spelling of the names Qaddafi/Gaddafi are deliberate. They differentiate the two characters and, in the case of Wanis, that was how he spelled it.

*The colors of the flag have a double meaning: To the black flag (with crescent and star) of Cyenaica, of which Idris was emir before the creation of Libya in 1951, was added the green to represent Tripolitania and red for Fezzan. But it also represents the black flag “Al-Uqaab” of the Prophet (pbuh) and the crescent and star representing Islam, red for the blood of those who died fighting the Italians and green for the verdant lands along the coast and in the oases

Myths of the Gaddafi regime Explained

While there are no excuses for the way Gaddafi was treated in the videos posted publicly, we want to stress that those who have done this were not acting on behalf of the NTC nor the interim government. They were fighters who were swept in a moment of intense fighting, and after 8 long months of defending themselves, having lost friends and family. A full investigation of the circumstances of what happened has been officially launched and we hope its findings will be made public as soon as possible. Those acts don’t represent the majority of Libyans and don’t represent Islamic or Libyan traditional values.

There are a lot of people defending Muammer Gaddafi and his regime by stating living conditions and infrastructure in Libya was world class, and all the people in the country enjoyed unimaginable wealth. This is not true. The Gaddafi regime was rife with corruption and deception. Who you know was more important than who you were as a person,  with many basic services being only available to the highest bidders.

Below, Nizar Mhani of the Free Generation Movement responds to common misconceptions relating to the Gaddafi regime  – the bolded inaccurate statements are being circulated via email forward

There are no electricity bills in Libya; electricity is free for all its citizens.

Categorically untrue. Despite poor electricity infrastructure and poor coverage of electricity lines, even in the Capital, Libyan home owners pay monthly/quarterly (area dependant) electricity bills based on meter readings. Electricity is cut off in instances of unpaid bills. Reconnection upon payment is not instant. The electric infrastructure is weak and some areas of Libya do not have electricity available at all.

There is no interest on loans, banks in Libya are state-owned and loans given to all its citizens at 0% interest by law.

Categorically untrue. Banks all over Libya have been giving out loans for years and years. There is a percentage rate charge on all loans, which is comparable to an interest rate, but in the spirit of ‘islamic ethics’ it is not called interest, it is called an ‘Administrative Expense’ – Masareef Edareeya.

A House is considered a human right in Libya ¬ Gaddafi vowed that his parents would not get a house until everyone in Libya had a home. Gaddafi¹s father has died while he, his wife and his mother are still living in a tent.

Gaddafi abused this human right as much as he did other basic rights. It is well known in Libya that political opponents and successful business men/women had their homes confiscated and handed over to regime members, usually rewards for Free Officers – Dubat A7rar. Many farms and homes and businesses were confiscated during three infamous phases of Libyas dictatorial history:

  • 1969 – The dreaded Green Revolution. Free Officers were rewarded land, homes, and farms that sometimes belonged to other people and the original owners were not compensated or asked if this was ok.
  • Late 70’s – The introduction of the law Albayt le Sakinehee – The Home Belongs to its Dwellers. As this law was passed overnight, thousands of homeowners instantly lost their homes, as tenants (those renting the homes) claimed ownership on account of being the ‘dwellers’. The law applied to homes, farms, shops, etc.
  • 90’s – The introduction of Purification Committees (Lejnat al Tatheer). This committee ran by the widely know slogan, ‘Min ayna laka hada?’ – “From where did you obtain this?”, a form of ultra-socialism where people’s possessions, including homes and businesses, were confiscated if seen to be ‘surplus to requirement’ or contributing to a ‘monopoly’.

Regarding Gaddafis ‘vow’: While Gaddafi waited for ‘everyone in Libya’ to be housed, he himself lived in a sprawling 6km square compound in the centre of the capital which was home to state of the art security and an underground network of rooms and ultramodern bunkers. He also had a vast and well known farm on Airport Road in Tripoli. This, just in the capital.

All newlyweds in Libya receive $60,000 Dinar (US$ 50,000 ) by the government to buy their first apartment so to help start up the family.

This is a well known rumour and a common joke in Libya. Whilst it may have been passed as official legislation, I know of not a single family who has been given this grant. The backbreaking bureaucracy associated with such grants and loans make them more or less impossible to obtain.

Education and medical treatments are free in Libya. Before Gaddafi only 25% of Libyans are literate. Today the figure is 83%.

Education and Health Care – Free does not mean adequate. It is well known that Libya’s standard of health care is nothing short of appalling. It is widely known that the majority of Libyans seeking medical care leave for neighbouring countries for treatment. Our Education system is no better. It is outdated, teachers are underpaid and under-trained and libraries are largely non-existent. The syllabus was constantly being revised and reviewed under direct instruction from the former regime e.g. banning English, changing Quranic verses, etc.

It is commonly said that Libyans would be happy to forfeit their ‘free health care’ and pay for a National Health Service if it was up to the required standard.

Should Libyans want to take up farming career, they would receive farming land, a farming house, equipments, seeds and Livestock to kick- start their farms all for free.

This has never happened, in addition to this many farms and homes have been confiscated by the government to build railroads, The Great Man Made River and civil roads.

The owners of the land were only compensated if there was a covered structure on the land as the Gaddafi regime legally owned any land and the people were only allowed to build on it. When there was compensation offered it was nowhere near the actual value of the property and many waited years to receive anything if at all. This system was also rife with corruption many residents told they had to pay a bribe to receive what little they were given.

If Libyans cannot find the education or medical facilities they need in Libya, the government funds them to go abroad for it not only free but they get $2, 300/month accommodation and car allowance.

Categorically untrue. If this was the case, the former regime would have been in receipt of 6 million application forms – one for every man, women and child who ‘cannot find education or medical facilities they need’. This grant does not exist for the mainstream public. There is anectdotal evidence of some medical grants being given but again, the system was corrupt and opaque.

In Libyan, if a Libyan buys a car, the government pays 50% of the price. ‎The price of petrol in Libya is $0.14 per liter.

There is no truth to the former Gaddafi regime paying 50% of the value of a new car.

Whilst the price of fuel is indeed cheap, the quality of roads, the accuracy and availability of road signs, the presence of road traffic police, and all other transport infrastructure is of abysmal standard.

The absence of an integrated and functional public transport system means that people are reliant on their cars for all movement and might end up paying more on fuel than our neighbours around the Mediterranean basin.

Libya has no external debt and its reserves amount to $150 billion now frozen globally.

Whilst our sovereign wealth is undeniable, none of it was spent on the people of Libya nor the infrastructure of the country. Basic amenities, services, and state infrastructure are either absent or of appalling standard.

The availability of money is not tantamount to wealth or prosperity. The Arabs have a saying about Libya – “A rich nation of poor inhabitants.”

If a Libyan is unable to get employment after graduation the state would pay the average salary of the profession as if he or she is employed until employment is found.

Categorically untrue. Even basic wages are sometimes unpaid for months, for those lucky enough to be employed. Welfare for the unemployed is non-existent.

A portion of Libyan oil sale is credited directly to the bank accounts of all Libyan citizens.

No basis to this claim as no such case can be found.

A mother who gave birth to a child receive US $5 ,000

Categorically untrue. There is a Child Benefit welfare payment in Libya – it is roughly 15-20 Libyan Dinars a month per child. No Libyan citizen was given foreign currency as compensation.

40 loaves of bread in Libya costs $ 0.15

Bread was subsidized by the state. Whilst the price varies (marginally) from shop to shop, bread usually costs ¼ dinars for 10 baguettes (small) or roughly 500grams per dinar.

25% of Libyans have a university degree

The absence of a comprehensive selection process and a corrupt entry protocol means that universities in Libya are grossly over populated and over subscribed, despite limited facilities. This results in an over inflated number of graduates, but not necessarily an adequate level of employability. There are thousands of students studying foundation year medicine in Tripoli alone.

Gaddafi carried out the world¹s largest irrigation project, known as the Great Man-Made River project, to make water readily available.

The Jury is still out on this. The project has indeed supplied water to many towns and cities around Libya, but the cost is thought to be as stratastrophic as the time it took to complete this. Further, decades of an absence of appropriate licensing, monitoring and control has meant that wells were dug for every home, putting immense pressure on Libya’s natural and naturally replenishable water sources. This resulted in the increase of salinity in local water reserves, which lead to the need for an expansive project such as the Man Made River.

Thanks for Niz and Libya Outreach for putting this together.

Saadi Gaddafi locked up his best pal for rejecting his gay advances

Tyrant’s son Al-Saadi Gaddafi threw his best friend in jail for turning down his gay advances.

Reda Thawargi said he was locked up for two and-a-half years before he was released and Saadi begged him for his support to quell the uprising.

Rebels who raided married Saadi’s opulent mansion this week found gay porn DVDs in his office. The sprawling property near Tripoli has its own football pitch and outside disco, as well as an outhouse with three cell-like rooms and a caged ­building where Saadi is said to have set dogs on people who displeased him.

Reda said: “Saadi is gay. He tried to have sex with me but I refused. I only like girls. So he threw me in military jail.”

Reda was a close friend of the dictator’s son for 13 years.

They both played football for Tripoli’s Al Ahli football club and spent two years together in Italy drinking and ­partying.

However, Saadi became ­infuriated by Reda’s refusal to sleep with him and put him on trial in a Libyan court – but without a specific charge. Reda said: “The judge told me, ‘if Saadi says you have done wrong, then you must go to prison’.”

He was eventually freed in February.

Reda added: “When the ­uprising began Saadi called me to ask me to go on state TV to support him because of my fame as a ­footballer. I refused and hid away.

“I want to be the first to punch him now. If you find him, tell me.”

Source: Mirror

Feb17.info – The End

Dear readers,

We would like to thank you all for your tremendous support throughout an unbelievable year in Libya and in our lives. When we first started feb17.info we set out with the goal to make the Libyan people’s voices heard during their fight for freedom, to gain worldwide support, to expose the ruthlessness of the Gaddafi regime, and to show the world the truth about the Libyan revolution.

We did not know if anyone would listen or care about our cause. It was difficult to predict whether it would reach one person or one thousand people. We also did not know how long the fight would last, but that all did not matter. As long as one person was hearing the truth and was able to help make a difference, it would be worth it.

A year later we are blessed to look back on it and to have been a part of history. After millions of visits to the site and support and money raised to aid Libya, we believe that we have accomplished our goal.

It comes with a heavy heart that we announce that this is the end of the road for feb17.info. We are sad to see it end, but Libya is turning a page in its history, and so are we. It is time to move beyond the computer screen and start building our country in other ways. The site will remain a historical archive of the revolution. It is a piece of history that belongs to Libya and the world.

Many of you had asked us to reveal who we are, and we considered your request with great thought. We never hid our identities for safety purposes, as we all had nothing to fear while our brothers and sisters in Libya courageously risked and lost their lives. We did so because this was bigger than just a few people. It was about all the brave people that were behind the revolution that made their story worth telling – the shopkeepers and students who defended their cities, the mothers who supported them and endured the pain of losing their children, the journalists and aid workers who came to our assistance. It was our obligation and honor to do what we could for Libya and mankind. That requires no recognition.

You all made our experience on Feb17.info worthwhile and without all of your help and support it wouldn’t have had the effect that it did. We shared in the tears and the pain throughout the difficult road, and in the laughter and celebrations of a joyous, new beginning. Thank you for allowing us to show you who Libyans truly are. We hope you continue your support as Libya rebuilds and you all one day get the chance to see the beautiful land and its people.

God bless and long live Free Libya
– The team at Feb17.info

How rebels held Misrata

Misrata, Libya

Tripoli Street is a bullet-scarred wasteland — littered with charred cars and tanks, its cafes and offices shattered. Yet for Misrata’s civilians-turned-fighters, the boulevard is a prized trophy, paid for in blood, won with grit and guile.

In this April 23, 2011 file photo, Libyan rebel fighters run across a street in the besieged city of Misrata, Libya

It took five weeks of fierce street battles — on rooftops, in alleyways — for Misrata’s inexperienced rebels to wrest control of their city’s commercial heart from forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Up against armored units and professional sniper squads, they turned bottles, tires and trailer trucks into tools of war.

When they finally succeeded in pushing government forces out of Libya’s third-largest city in late April, it was the greatest head-to-head military victory yet in the uprising that threatens Gadhafi’s 42-year hold on power. The opposition controls much of eastern Libya, but Misrata is the only city in the west rebels have managed to hold.

 

“Our fighters weren’t fighting from experience,” said the local military spokesman, Ibrahim Beatelmal, noting that most had never touched a gun before joining the fight. “They had to make it all up as they went along.”

In this April 23, 2011 file photo, bullet casings litter a street in the besieged city of Misrata, Libya.

The city remains surrounded, accessible only through its port and subjected to daily bombardments. After two months of siege, cemeteries accommodate rows of new graves and hospitals have transformed into battlefield clinics; doctors estimate that the siege’s death toll has passed 1,000.

Yet amid the carnage, residents have organized to stave off hunger, allocate fuel and protect the city. They’ve erected sand berms along streets to absorb blasts, hacked down palm trees to delineate ambulance fast lanes, formed an array of administrative committees — all with a community spirit that revealed itself in many ways during an Associated Press reporter’s weeklong stay.

Misrata is a merchant city, with a large professional class whose expertise has paid off in distinctive ways. Dermatologists treat blast victims. University students master street-fighting tactics.

“All of a sudden I became responsible for macaroni and onions,” said Majdi Shibani, a telecommunications professor put in charge of food distribution — a daunting task in a sprawling city where all phone lines have been cut. His team oversees distribution of 400 tons of food per week from a room in the back of a hookah lounge, where customers smoke water pipes.

Donations of food have streamed in on boats from the Libyan diaspora, foreign countries and international organizations. There’s little coordination, resulting in huge surpluses of, say, canned corn — which Shibani said Libyans hate.

The stalemate in Misrata mirrors the situation nationwide. Soon after the uprising against Gadhafi broke out on Feb. 15, the opposition took over Benghazi and other eastern towns, but its patchwork forces proved unable to make further gains even after U.S. and NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s troops began in late March.

Meanwhile, government forces surrounded Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital Tripoli, cutting it off and attacking from three sides. Unlike fighters in eastern Libya, who retreat across stretches of desert when attacked, Misrata’s rebels can’t run; their backs are to the Mediterranean Sea.

After several failed attacks on Misrata, government commanders sent a column of tanks blasting its way down Tripoli Street on March 16. Residents fled, and regime sniper teams moved in, building nests on a dozen of the city’s tallest buildings, notably a nine-story insurance building. Gunfire from the rooftops killed and wounded scores of civilians.

The city’s youth organized resistance. Led by a handful of retired army officers, they formed brigades of dozens of fighters, each assigned to a side street, said Samir al-Hadi, a grocer who led a group at Tripoli Street’s southern end.

Local youths used their intimate knowledge of the area to dodge sniper fire, serving as scouts, gunmen, messengers and supply runners. Over walkie-talkies, group leaders let others know when tanks or supply trucks arrived so they could attack them with Molotov cocktails or rocket-propelled grenades.

They first fought with only light arms. With each ambush, they captured more — mostly anti-aircraft and heavy artillery guns — which they welded to the backs of pickup trucks.

The Gadhafi regime imported the pickups — cheap Chinese imitations of name-brand trucks — in 2007, but they sat unwanted in a lot until the war. Now, the rebels have registered about 2,000, even issuing photo IDs to their drivers to prevent theft.

The fleet is essential to the rebel cause, ferrying fighters to battle, aid to families, and casualties to hospitals. Although the trucks often break down, the rebels call them a blessing.

“The bad cars Gadhafi brought us we now use to fight him,” said Hisham Bansasi, who helps coordinate the fleet. “You can call it a joke of destiny.”

Bigger trucks were used when the rebels — unable to blast the snipers from their positions — decided instead to cut their supply lines. While rooftop gunmen provided cover, rebels drove trucks full of sand onto Tripoli Street, dumped their trailers and shot out their tires, forming heavy roadblocks.

“When we blocked the road, there was no way to get supplies to the snipers,” al-Hadi said.

The rebels then circled in, closing off back routes with destroyed cars and concrete sewage pipes.

Street battles raged while they besieged the snipers. Government forces peppered the area with mortars, killing many rebels. Al-Hadi guesses that about 400 died in the fighting on Tripoli Street alone, although no one has exact figures.

Among the victims were two Western photojournalists who had accompanied rebels to the street — Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

As the snipers gradually weakened, rebel fighters went building by building, clearing them any way they could.

Near the battle’s end, a team of snipers held out in a multistory furniture store called “Make Yourself at Home,” al-Hadi said. Rebels fired on the building with anti-aircraft guns, forcing the snipers into the basement.

Gunmen then stormed the building and rolled burning tires down the stairs. Days later, its stairwell was charred black, and the smell of burnt rubber and dead bodies fouled the air.

The battle turned in late April, al-Hadi said, as government troops ran low on supplies and fled from the high-rises to nearby homes. The rebels raised their flag on the insurance building on April 21.

In this April 22, 2011 file photo, a Libyan rebel fighter uses a scope to peek through a hole in a wall during a battle with pro-Gadhafi troops in the besieged city of Misrata, the main rebel holdout in Gadhafi’s territory.

Rebel fighter Mustafa Zredi, 18, said he watched one of the last sniper groups seize a house on April 26 and punch holes for their rifles in the stairway walls.

“We knew we could easily put gas in a bottle and throw it over the wall to burn them out,” Zredi said.

Before doing so, the fighters asked permission from the owner, 66-year-old Mohammed Labbiz. With regret, he said OK.

“That was the only way to get those dogs out,” Labbiz recalled, standing in the charred shell of his home of 30 years. “I hope that God will reimburse me.”

Two days later, curious families walked down Tripoli Street, snapping photos of their children next to burned-out tanks.

The fighting has caused massive displacement throughout Misrata. Thousands of residents now squat in schools or crowd in with family members.

The Refayda family, from a semi-rural area to the east, evacuated into the city in mid-April after a surge of sniper fire and bombardments.

Some 70 clan members now stay in an unfinished, four-room house near the ocean. They’ve divided the rooms by age and gender — women in the bedrooms, girls in the living room, boys in the garage. The oldest is 77, the youngest 4 months. About 30 of the clan’s grown men are on the battlefield but visit regularly.

Demand is high for the home’s three bathrooms; three children shower at a time.

Ali Hameida built the house in 2003 for his wife and five children, never imagining so many guests.

“If I had known, I’d have dug a basement,” he said.

Libyans carry coffins during a funeral of four Libyan rebel fighters in the besieged city of Misrata, Libya

It’s been impossible to keep a precise count of Misrata’s death toll; doctors’ estimates range between 1,000 and 2,000. The central hospital, Hikma, has registered more than 550 dead since mid-February, but others were brought to outlying clinics or buried straightaway.

The Libyan government has provided no information on how many soldiers it has lost, further blurring the picture.

Hikma, originally a private clinic, has been transformed by the war. A tent in the parking lot houses the triage unit. Another serves as a mosque. Wards are crowded around the clock, and doctors bed down in alcoves hidden behind sheets. Outside, families cluster to await news, erupting in tears and chants when a new death is confirmed.

Dr. Ali Mustafa Ali, like many of his colleagues, often sleeps at Hikma but returns home to his wife and children during lulls, snipping a few roses from his garden to bring back to work.

“The severity of the situation has made everyone pull together in a way I’ve never seen before,” Ali said.

A group of men emerged from the hospital carrying a wooden coffin covered in a blanket — the first of 11 “martyrs” who would reach the hospital before nightfall.

“God is great,” Ali said as the men passed. Then he entered the hospital to put the flowers on his desk.

“They’re for the people inside,” he said, “to keep their spirits up.”

Source: Associated Press

The revolution will soon be televised – Libya TV

By Blake Hounshell  || March 28, 2011

Free Libya gets its own satellite channel, hosted by — you guessed it — Qatar.

For the first time in its history, Libya is getting its own independent satellite channel.

A group of Libyans from abroad and inside the country is setting up the new station to broadcast news and commentary about Libya for a Libyan audience, with the aim of countering Libyan state propaganda and promoting dialogue about the country’s future after Muammar al-Gaddafi, the brutal leader whose four-plus decades in power appear to be drawing to a rapid close.

The channel, to be called simply Libya TV, launches this week in Doha after less than two weeks of hurried preparation. Its founder is the avuncular Mahmud Shammam, a well-known Libyan expatriate journalist who edits Foreign Policy‘s Arabic edition.

Libya TV’s initial team of 19 young staffers was assembled partly over Facebook, Shammam says. In mid-March, he put out a call for volunteers on his page and immediately got more than 200 requests to join. “One woman even said her life would mean nothing if she did not participate,” Shammam told me. Another new staffer left Ajdabiya, an eastern city that until the last few days was occupied by Gaddafi’s fighters, to join the network in Doha. The channel had to buy him a new set of clothes when he arrived.

 

Shammam, a staunch secularist, has long been an outspoken critic of Gaddafi’s regime, dating back to his days as a student activist at Michigan State University, where he squared off against Gaddafi supporters led by Musa Kusa, now the regime’s foreign minister and a key member of its inner circle. (“He’s not stupid,” Shammam says of Kusa. “He knows the regime is collapsing.”)

Returning home to Libya after college, Shammam got into trouble after participating in the January 1976 student demonstrations in Benghazi, and left the country in March of that year, never to return. He has spent the years since as a journalist and activist, with stints at a number of different outlets, including nearly 10 years at the helm of Newsweek‘s Arabic edition. He’s a frequent guest on Al Jazeera, where he was a board member for four years, and is close to Libyan opposition leaders both in and outside the country.

For the first month, Shammam hopes to broadcast four hours of original programming each day, including a 20-minute news bulletin and a half-hour talk show, and then extend it thereafter. He is keen to give Libya’s young people, who have been at the forefront of the uprising, a prominent voice at the station. “The youth who liberate Libya can run it,” he says. “If we don’t let them take responsibility now, we’re going to be in trouble.”

According to Mohamed al-Akari, the new station’s Tripoli-born manager, Libya TV has set up a studio in Benghazi and another in London, in addition to its headquarters in Doha, and has correspondents throughout Libya.

While editorially independent, the channel could prove an important outlet for the revolutionaries, especially if the drama of the uprising fades and the conversation shifts to less visually gripping topics like constitutional reform, political development, and education. International coverage of Tunisia and Egypt has dropped precipitously in the wake of the respective departures of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.

In the early days of the uprising, Libyans set up the National Transitional Council (NTC), a body describing itself as “the political face of the revolution.” The purpose of the council, a senior NTC representative told me, was to combat the regime’s message that a post-Gaddafi Libya would mean chaos, tribalism, and civil war, as well as to “liberate our country, to speak to the world in one voice, and to mobilize support for the resistance.”

One of the key challenges of a post-Gaddafi Libya will be combating the years of “indoctrination” Libyan children faced, he told me, noting the wide gulf between a highly educated, worldly diaspora that is eager to help rebuild the country and a bruised, battered population inside Libya that has known only Gaddafi for 42 years.

“We need a heavy dosage of dialogue,” says Shammam, speaking for the new satellite channel. “We want Libyans to think about the future: the rule of law, civil society, a new constitution. We want to promote a culture of forgiving.”

Libya TV is being funded primarily by donations from Libyan businessmen abroad, including one $250,000 contribution from a wealthy Libyan donor in Britain. The state of Qatar, in addition to agreeing to host the network on its soil, has turned over the facilities and technical staff of Al-Rayyan, a local channel focused on cultural programming.