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Women who defied al-Gaddafi regime not spared from brutal jails

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's researcher in Libya.

One of the grimmest features of the armed conflict in Libya has been the spate of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of thousands of suspected opponents of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. Some are still missing, while those who have been freed bring back tales of torture, rape and extrajudicial executions.

The vast majority of the disappeared were men suspected of supporting the ‘17 February Revolution’, but women were not excluded.

One is Sukaina al-Hadi Hares, a 37-year-old nurse, who was detained on two occasions during the conflict.

Sukaina was arrested at the Tajoura Heart Hospital, her workplace of 17 years, by three men in plainclothes at 3pm on 12 June. She suspects that colleagues tipped off security agents loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi. Her crime was making copies of flyers warning supporters of the anti-al-Gaddafi uprising about - ironically - informants.

She was driven to a place she did not know, where she was interrogated and beaten while blindfolded.

Sukaina told Amnesty International: “They sat me down on a chair, and the questions and slaps kept raining down. Every time they did not like an answer, they would slap me across the face. They then started beating me with a rubber hose on my back, tights and arms. They wanted to know who else in the hospital was sympathetic to the “rats” as they call the thuuwar (revolutionaries). They kept asking who gave me the flyer; and they wanted me to denounce the doctors at the Heart Hospital who delivered medical supplies to the thuuwar. They threatened to rape me if I didn’t ‘confess’ but I kept telling them that I found the flyer on the ground… They called me a rat and a whore.”

Some hours later, Sukaina was transferred to the office of the Internal Security Agency (ISA) in Sabri, where the beatings and interrogation continued. She said she was electrocuted on her arms, back and nipples. After two days, she was remanded in custody at the Jdeida Prison on charges of distributing subversive documents. She was released on 13 July.

Sukaina had barely had time to recover from the experience when a group of armed men in plainclothes barged into her home at dawn on 20 July. They were looking for her and her brothers, who had taken up arms  against Colonel al-Gaddafi’s rule. Sukaina was detained in the Abu Salim area of Tripoli until the thuuwar released her on 24 August. Throughout her detention, she was not allowed to contact her family.

Among the accusations levelled against Sukaina was that she had helped Younes Ali Mansour, a 50-year-old patient at the Tajoura Heart Hospital, who told Amnesty International he was beaten and raped twice - with a hose and a wooden stick - after his arrest on suspicion on supporting the opposition.

On 4 September, Amnesty International delegates met another woman ‘punished’ for her support of the '17 February Revolution'. Inas Fathi Masoud, a 26-year-old computer engineer, was arrested at home at 11:30pm on 31 July by a group of armed men in plainclothes.

Inas told Amnesty International that she supported the uprising, despite being from the Werfala tribe seen as loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi, because she has seen a lot of injustice.

Her uncle was killed by security forces in the Abu Salim Prison in June 1996, along with 1,200 other detainees. From the onset of the uprising, Inas remained in contact with other al-Gaddafi opponents in Benghazi and Tunisia. She also collected money, clothes and food for the fighters and civilians in the Nafusa Mountain area. She believes her activities were discovered after she tried to deliver audiovisual material, implicating the al-Gaddafi forces in war crimes, to her contacts in Tunisia.

Inas was detained in the Hay al-Andalus neighbourhood of Tripoli, where she was interrogated about her activities and links with the opposition. She said she was slapped, beaten on her back and arms and threatened with rape.

She was later transferred to the ISA headquarters in Sabri and then to Abu Salim prison. Along with Sukaina, and at least three other women, she was freed by the thuuwar on 24 August.

Inas told Amnesty International: “I know that I was treated a lot better than other detainees because my family intervened on my behalf with some high level people in Gaddafi’s government, who did not want to upset the Werfala tribe. I did, however, witness how male detainees were beaten, electrocuted and insulted in Sabri… I plan to continue my involvement in this revolution and build a better future for all Libyans.”