Fears are mounting for the safety of Siham Sergiwa, a Libyan member of parliament, vocal in criticising the current offensive on Tripoli, who was abducted by armed gunmen in a night-time raid on her home in Benghazi one month ago, said Amnesty International.
Dozens of masked gunmen wearing army attire stormed Siham Sergiwa’s home and seized her in the early hours of 17 July. Her husband, Ali, was shot in the leg and her 16-year-old son, Fadi, was badly beaten during the raid.
“The horrific abduction of Siham Sergiwa illustrates the acute dangers facing publicly active women in Libya who dare to express criticism of militias. Siham Sergiwa appears to have come under attack as punishment for peacefully expressing her opinions and criticising the Libyan National Army’s offensive on Tripoli. One month since her abduction, the fears for her safety are growing by the day,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
The horrific abduction of Siham Sergiwa illustrates the acute dangers facing publicly active women in Libya who dare to express criticism of militias.Magdalena Mughrabi Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
Although the identity of the perpetrators is yet to be fully established, witness testimony indicates the attackers are affiliated with the self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. Earlier that day Siham Sergiwa had given a TV interview criticizing the LNA’s offensive to capture Tripoli.
“The Libyan National Army, which controls Benghazi, must ensure Siham Sergiwa’s immediate and unconditional release, and refrain from any attacks against civilians. No one should be targeted on account of their political background, affiliation or opinions. Pending her release, they must reveal her fate and whereabouts and ensure she is protected from all forms of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
A family member described to Amnesty International how that night, the lights in the whole area were cut off shortly before they heard screaming.
“They came inside the house and told us to get down. They shot dad in the leg and beat him. I tried to stop them and they hit me, too,” the family member said.
Another eyewitness said the attackers spoke in a Benghazi accent and arrived in cars with “military police” written on the sides.
After the attack the message: “The army is a red line” and “Avengers of Blood” (Awliya al-Dam) was graffitied on a wall in the house. The graffiti prompted eyewitnesses to believe that Siham Sergiwa was abducted by Awliya al-Dam, an armed brigade affiliated with the LNA, made up of relatives of victims of deadly attacks in Benghazi since 2011.
Siham’s husband and son were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre to receive treatment for their injuries. Her husband is still in hospital and, according to the family, has not been allowed visitors.
A few hours before her abduction, Siham Sergiwa had been interviewed by Al Hadath TV, in which she criticized the LNA leader’s military campaign to seize Tripoli.
She is the latest in a series of Libyan women who have been targeted with assassination and attempted killings, abduction, physical assault or sexual violence as well as death threats, harassment, smear campaigns on social media and other forms of intimidation since 2014.
At least three female activists and politicians have been assassinated since 2014 in connection with their work; the member of parliament Fariha al-Barkawi; prominent human rights defender Salwa Bugaighis and local activist Entisar El Hassari. Women who do not adhere to social norms or challenge gender stereotypes are particular targets of such crimes.
One journalist and government spokeswoman whose case was documented by Amnesty International was abducted by militias in Tripoli twice and faced physically assault and relentless intimidation between 2012 and 2017 for her investigative reporting into corruption and human rights abuses.
“Siham Sergiwa’s abduction demonstrates the tragic consequences of the Libyan authorities’ failure to protect activists and vocal critics from brutal retaliatory attacks. Women in public roles who dare to speak out against lawlessness and militias today can be silenced at any cost,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has also documented the relentless threats, harassment and dangers faced by women in public roles in Libya.