Human rights defenders, political activists, bloggers and media professionals have been under increasing attack from armed groups in Libya since mid-May, when fighting between rival factions intensified in and around Benghazi and later erupted in Tripoli, United Nations Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (pictured) warned recently.
High Commissioner Zeid said United Nations human rights staff had received numerous reports of intimidation, harassment, abductions and murder of members of civil society, causing some human rights defenders to flee the country while others have curtailed their activism or gone into hiding, seeking protection for themselves and their families.
Individuals have been shot in the street while going to work or coming out of mosques after prayers. Many have received text messages or have been the subject of social media posts threatening them or their families with death, abduction or rape.
“The work of civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders is particularly crucial in the context of the ongoing conflict in Libya,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “Victims of human rights violations and abuses in Libya rely on these important actors to document and draw attention to their plight. The climate of fear created by such attacks, coupled with the total impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, threatens to silence the few independent voices emerging from within the country.”
In Benghazi, 10 people were murdered in a single day on 19 September, including two prominent young civil society activists, Tawfik Bensaud, 18, and Sami al-Kawafi, 17. Since May, a number of other prominent public figures have been killed in the city, including newspaper editor Muftah Abu Zeid and lawyer and human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis. In Derna, East of Benghazi, lawyer Usama al-Mansuri was killed on 6 October, apparently after publicly criticizing a declaration by armed groups in the town pledging allegiance to the so-called ISIL.