Libya: Abducted politician’s fate remains unknown a year on, amid ongoing disappearances

The self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) must reveal the fate and whereabouts of Siham Sergiwa, a Libyan politician and women’s rights defender who was violently abducted from her home one year ago today, Amnesty International said. Siham Sergiwa’s case is a stark reminder of the ongoing abductions, enforced disappearances and unlawful deprivations of liberty perpetrated by all sides in this conflict, including government forces, de facto authorities, their affiliated militias and armed groups.

Siham Sergiwa has not been heard from since the terrifying night she was taken away from her family. Her fate is a chilling reminder of the consequences of peaceful criticism in today’s Libya
Diana Eltahawy

On 17 July 2019, dozens of masked gunmen wearing army attire stormed Siham Sergiwa’s home in Benghazi, eastern Libya, where the LNA is the de facto authority. The men beat her 16-year-old son and shot her husband in the leg, before dragging her away. The night before her abduction, Siham Sergiwa had publicly called for an end to the LNA offensive on Tripoli.

“Siham Sergiwa has not been heard from since the terrifying night she was taken away from her family. Her fate is a chilling reminder of the consequences of peaceful criticism in today’s Libya,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are urging the LNA to put an end to the anguish of Siham Sergiwa’s family and immediately reveal her fate and whereabouts. Abductions and enforced disappearances have become a chilling hallmark of the conflict in Libya, with civilians left at the mercy of militias and armed groups.”

Eyewitnesses to Siham Sergiwa’s abduction and photos examined by Amnesty International point to graffiti on the wall of her house as evidence that Awliya al-Dam, an armed brigade affiliated with the LNA, was responsible. The graffiti read “Awliya al-Dam” and “The army is a red line”. Moreover, the presence of several military police checkpoints around Siham’s house and witness testimonies describing how the attackers arrived in cars branded “military police” suggest the LNA was complicit or directly responsible. The LNA denies responsibility, but has failed to open a full, impartial and independent investigation into Siham Sergiwa’s abduction or secure her release.

We are urging the LNA to put an end to the anguish of Siham Sergiwa’s family and immediately reveal her fate and whereabouts. Abductions and enforced disappearances have become a chilling hallmark of the conflict in Libya, with civilians left at the mercy of militias and armed groups
Diana Eltahawy

Since the LNA assumed control of most of eastern Libya in 2014, Amnesty International has documented multiple abductions of real or perceived LNA opponents. Some victims end up in prolonged arbitrary detention, while the fate of others remains unknown, amid fears for their safety and reports of deaths in custody.

In Ajdabiya, an LNA-controlled town about 150km west of Benghazi, Amnesty International has documented the abduction of at least 11 individuals from the Magharba tribe, over their perceived connections to Ibrahim Jadran, former leader of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, an armed group at odds with the LNA. Former detainees told Amnesty International that they have been tortured, subjected to inhumane conditions and denied any contact with the outside world during their time in Gernada and Al-Kuwafiya prisons controlled by armed groups allied to the LNA. The fate and whereabouts of at least four members of the Magharba tribe remain unknown after they had been taken between April and May this year by armed men belonging to the Internal Security Agency-Ajdabiya, a group allied to the LNA.

Distressed relatives searching for their loved ones in prisons and other places of detention and former detainees voiced their frustration with the lack of remedy or justice, repeating “God is sufficient for us, and He is the best disposer of our affairs”.

‘No authority is above Radaa’s authority’

In the west of Libya, controlled by the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), Amnesty International has documented the enforced disappearance of individuals by a number of militias affiliated with the ministry of interior for their real or perceived affiliations or for criticism. These militias include the notorious Radaa Forces, the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, the Bab Tajoura Brigade and the Abu Selim Brigade. Some remain forcibly disappeared for months and years before being released or allowed to contact their families for the first time.

Amnesty International has documented how the Radaa Forces have seized individuals simply because they were born in the east. In one case, a man whose passport stated he was from Benghazi was stopped at Mitiga airport, controlled by the Radaa Forces, and taken to prison, where he was tortured and subjected to enforced disappearance for almost four years. He was released in mid-2019 without ever facing any legal proceedings.

According to former detainees, families of those detained and human rights activists, the Radaa Forces consistently falsely deny any knowledge of victims’ whereabouts to their distressed families.

The Radaa Forces remain on the government’s payroll and are formally under the oversight of the ministry of interior.

As in the east of the country, relatives of victims of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention told Amnesty International there were few options for seeking answers or securing their loved ones’ releases. The public prosecutor’s requests to refer detainees to judicial bodies or release them are regularly ignored by the Radaa Forces, according to former detainees, relatives, human rights defenders and previous research. On 29 June 2020, families of several arbitrarily detained individuals in Mitiga prison held a protest. The next day, the minister of interior met with the head of the Radaa Forces and praised the group’s efforts in “fighting threats to the state and citizens”. Families told Amnesty International that they are at the mercy of militias and that “no authority is above Radaa’s authority”.

Amnesty International is calling on both sides to the conflict to urgently bring to an end the wave of enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary detention and other similar, unlawful practices. They must instruct affiliated militias and armed groups to reveal the fate and whereabouts of all those subjected to enforced disappearance and similar practices and ensure that all those arbitrarily detained are released. People suspected of criminal offences may only be detained in accordance with the law and held in humane conditions under the protection of the law. Anyone charged with a recognizable criminal offence may only be prosecuted in proceedings that adhere to international standards of fairness.

“Siham Sergiwa’s case shows that no one, even a well-known politician, is safe in Libya. Instead of praising powerful militias committing serious human rights violations and other crimes with impunity, all parties engaging in enforced disappearances and analogous practices must respond to the pleas of distressed relatives by revealing the fate and whereabouts of all those disappeared and missing and protecting them from further harm,” said Diana Eltahawy.