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(New York) – Captured al-Gaddafi soliders, suspected loyalists and mercenaries held in western Libya are being beaten, and, in some cases, tortured in custody, Amnesty International said today in a new report that calls on the Libyan transitional authorities to immediately halt both arbitrary detentions and widespread abuse of detainees.
During its visits to detention centers, Amnesty International researchers found a wooden stick and rope, and a rubber hose, of the kind that could be used to beat detainees, including on the soles of their feet - a torture method known as falaqa.
Amnesty International researchers visited 11 detention facilities in and around Tripoli and in al-Zawiyah between August 18 and Sept. 21 and interviewed approximately 300 prisoners.
In one detention center they heard the sound of whipping and screams from a cell. Guards also admitted they beat detainees to extract confessions.
Since late August, armed militia have arrested and detained as many as 2,500 people in Tripoli and al-Zawiya, Amnesty International said.
The organization said detainees were almost always held without legal orders and mostly without the involvement of the General Prosecution. They were held by local councils, local military councils or armed brigades – far from the oversight of the Ministry of Justice.
Of the prisoners Amnesty International interviewed, none had been shown any kind of arrest warrant and many were effectively abducted from their homes by unidentified captors carrying out raids of suspected al-Gaddafi fighters or loyalists. At least two guards - in separate detention facilities - admitted to Amnesty International that they beat detainees in order to extract “confessions” more quickly.
In its briefing paper, Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya, Amnesty International called on the transitional authorities to end the pattern of beatings and ill-treatment of captured soldiers.
"There is a real risk that without firm and immediate action, some patterns of the past might be repeated. Arbitrary arrest and torture were a hallmark of Colonel al-Gaddafi's rule," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"We understand that the transitional authorities are facing many challenges, but if they do not make a clear break with the past now, they will effectively be sending out a message that treating detainees like this is to be tolerated in the new Libya." The organization said that detainees appear to suffer beatings and torture particularly at the start of their detention, being given a "welcome" on arrival.
Sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries made up between a third and a half of those detained. Some have been released after no evidence was found to link them to fighting.
A man from Niger, initially presented to Amnesty International as a "mercenary and killer," broke down and explained that he had "confessed" after being beaten nearly continuously for two days. He denied being involved in fighting.
Black Libyans - particularly from the Tawargha region, which was a base for al-Gaddafi forces in their efforts to regain control of Misratah - are also particularly vulnerable. Dozens of Tawarghans have been taken from their homes, checkpoints, and even hospitals. The organization also found that children have been held together with adults and women detainees have been supervised by male guards.
A 17-year-old boy from Chad accused of rape and being a mercenary told Amnesty International he was taken from his home in August by armed men who held him in a school where they punched him and beat him with sticks, belts, rifles and rubber cables: "The beatings were so severe that I ended up telling them what they wanted to hear. I told them I raped women and killed Libyans." Amnesty International called on the National Transitional Council (NTC) to ensure that people are not detained without orders from the General Prosecution, and to bring detention facilities under the control of the Minister of Justice.
The organization said that those being held must be allowed to challenge the lawfulness of their detention or should be released. Trial proceedings in western Libya have been suspended since the NTC took control. In eastern Libya, which fell under their control in February, they remain suspended.
In meetings with Amnesty International in September, NTC officials acknowledged concerns over arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, and vowed to do more to get a grip on armed militias and ensure that all those detained enjoy equal protection of the law. “The NTC has to act urgently to translate their public commitments into action, before such abuses become entrenched and stain the new Libya’s human rights record,” said Sahraoui.
"These detainees have in most cases been arrested without a warrant, beaten - and sometimes worse - on arrest and arrival in detention. They are vulnerable to abuse by armed militias who often act on their own initiative.
"The authorities cannot simply allow this to carry on because they are in a 'transitional' phase. These people must be allowed to defend themselves properly or be released."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.