Libya: Bani Walid siege must be lifted

As a large contingent of armed forces and armed militias surround Bani Walid in preparation for a possible assault, Amnesty International has called on the Libyan authorities to avoid unnecessary and excessive use of force in the city and to ensure that medical and other essential supplies are allowed into the city.On 25 September, Libya’s parliament, the General National Congress authorized the Ministries of Interior and Defence to use force if necessary to arrest suspects including those responsible for the alleged torture and killing of Omran Shaaban, credited with capturing Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi on 20 October 2011.It also called for the release of other detainees held in Bani Walid and set a deadline for implementation of 10 days.Following the decision, members of the Libyan army, Libya Shield forces and armed militias from various parts of the country, including Misratah, surrounded Bani Walid, about 140 kilometres south-east of Tripoli.“It is worrying that what essentially should be a law-enforcement operation to arrest suspects looks increasingly like a siege of a city and a military operation,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.“Libyan authorities should ensure that maximum restraint is exercised in any use of force, which should be proportionate to the purported objective of arresting suspects.”Local doctors said that, on 4 October, three vehicles carrying medical supplies, oxygen, and medical personnel were prevented from reaching the city by a group of armed men, who set-up a checkpoint about 80 kilometres away from Bani Walid on the main road from the capital Tripoli.Local residents told Amnesty International that vehicles carrying petrol, water and food supplies from the capital had also been turned back at the same checkpoint in the previous four days.  Families travelling from Tripoli to Bani Walid by car were also told to turn back.“Movement to and from Bani Walid should not be arbitrarily constrained, and in particular all medical and other essential supplies should be allowed to reach the city without any impediments,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added. Long-standing tensionsMisratan thuwwar ( “revolutionaries” as anti-Gaddafi fighters are commonly known) and members of the Libya Shield 2 forces, Omran Shaaban and Mohamed Abdallah Ali were abducted around 9 July near Bani Walid.Omran Shaaban was freed on 11 September along with two other Misratans detained by armed militias in Bani Walid. When Amnesty International visited him in hospital in Misratah on 12 September, he was paralyzed and in a coma.He was transferred to France for treatment, but succumbed to his gunshot wound on 24 September.Two other Misratan detainees released along with Omran Shaaban were tortured.At least four other Misratans are believed to be held by armed militias in Bani Walid. When Amnesty International visited Bani Walid on 20 September, it has not been able to locate their whereabouts and visit them, despite requests to the city’s local leadership. Omaran Shaaban’s death further exacerbated long-standing tensions between Misratah and Bani Walid. “While securing the release of individuals detained unlawfully in Bani Walid is a positive step, the Libyan authorities need also to address the situation of the thousands of people held across Libya without charge or trial; put an immediate end to ongoing abductions of individuals without warrant by armed militias and close all unofficial detention facilities spread across the country,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.BackgroundBani Walid was among the last cities to fall under the control of anti-Gaddafi forces during Libya’s internal conflict last year. Hundreds of residents from Bani Walid have been arrested by armed militias. Many continue to be detained without charge or trial across Libyan prisons and detention centres, including in Misratah. Many have been tortured or other-wise ill-treated. The entrance of anti-Gaddafi forces into Bani Walid in October 2011 was accompanied by widespread looting and other abuses. Earlier this week, clashes in the eastern outskirts of Bani Walid led to the death of one man from Bani Walid and several injuries.