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HRW Wants Lethal Force Used On Libyan Protesters Investigated

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for an investigation into the lethal force used by armed groups against protesters in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

The organisation says some of the protesters, who took to the streets in late August to protest against corruption and demand better public services, have also disappeared.

Quoting witnesses, reviews of photographs and videos, the US-based group said no fewer than 24 protesters were arbitrarily detained or tortured by armed groups which are linked to the interior ministry.

The rights organisation says the groups include some of the Libyan capital’s biggest factions – like the Nawasi brigade, and the Special Deterrence Force.

It added that weapons like machine guns were used to disperse the crowds – one person is known to have died.

The protests were triggered by persistent electricity cuts and the deterioration of other public services, as well as alleged corruption.

At the time, Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha condemned the violent clampdown and was later suspended by the prime minister pending an investigation.

He resumed his post earlier this month, and it is not clear what the conclusions of the inquiry were.

HRW is calling for an independent investigation into the abuses to be carried out by Tripoli’s General Prosecutor’s Office.

The HRW, in a statement on its website, wrote: “Because of fear of reprisals, those who spoke to Human Rights Watch have asked that their names be withheld.

“Libya Alahrar TV, a Libyan satellite TV station, reported that a group of protesters harassed and attacked a TV crew from the channel on August 23 while they were preparing to cover the protests at Martyrs’ Square.

“One Tripoli resident who attended the August 23 protest in Martyrs’ Square said that he observed a man in civilian clothes carrying a shotgun and shooting at protesters in the square before retreating toward armed groups who were stationed on the coastal road. This witness also observed a vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft weapon shooting at protesters:

“When we saw violence take over, we wanted to leave the protest area as fast as possible, and almost ran into a pickup truck with a 14.5-millimeter anti-aircraft weapon. We had barely made it 6 or 7 meters when the shooting began. It was just before the call to prayers, around 7:30 p.m. I was too preoccupied trying to make it out and so did not focus on any insignia other than it was a beige pickup truck. There were 10 or 12 people all wearing military uniforms with the exception of 1 militia member who was in civilian clothes.

“Human Rights Watch reviewed video footage from the incident and corroborated the use of a vehicle-mounted 14.5-mm anti-aircraft weapon.

“Another Tripoli protester said that protests on August 23 and 26 were met with violence, and that he recognized a member of Al-Nawasi Brigade who was shooting at protesters on August 23. He said protesters were mostly peaceful, with few exceptions:

“On August 23, armed groups used anti-aircraft weapons against protesters and other weapons for around one-and-a-half hours. Initially they were shooting in the air. On August 26, a big convoy with over 50 military vehicles showed up at Martyrs’ Square that included Al-Nawasi Brigade, Bab Tajoura Brigade, and Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, and I saw many people being arrested. Although the police were present during the demonstrations on these days they did not intervene when armed groups used machine guns and heavy weapons and arrested people under the eyes and ears of the Interior Ministry. Al-Nawasi Brigade has power over police forces and they in return don’t have confidence to do anything.

“A journalist covering the protests on August 23 said there was a lot of anger among the youth because of miserable living conditions and lack of opportunities in the country:

“When I got to Martyrs’ Square at around 4 p.m., I saw people between 16 years and 40 years participate. People are ready to explode because there’s no water, no electricity, no cash or opportunities. People were calling for the removal of politicians and demanded an investigation into corruption allegations. When the shooting started it was directed above the heads and not at the protesters, and only when protesters responded with swearing did the armed groups start to shoot directly at protesters. I saw injured people being taken away to the Tripoli Medical Center, but then they were transferred to another hospital.”

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