Amnesty International calls on the Libyan authorities to ensure that a full, impartial and independent investigation is conducted into allegations that security forces used excessive force when dealing with disturbances in Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli on 4 October 2006, reportedly leading to the death of at least one prisoner and the injuring of at least nine others.

In a letter sent today to the Libyan authorities, the organisation expressed its serious concerns about the incident and requested confirmation that an investigation has been opened and clarification of its nature, scope and methods and who is carrying it out.

According to Amnesty International's information, the incident occurred after some 190 prisoners were brought back to Abu Salim Prison following a hearing at a court in Tripoli. The court reportedly upheld the decision of the now abolished People's Court to convict them of charges related to membership of or links with an unauthorised organisation.

The unauthorised organisation in question is believed to be the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The court confirmed the previous sentences handed down by the People's Court, imposing the death penalty on some 20 defendants and long prison terms on the others.

On their return to prison, some of the prisoners demanded to meet senior prison officials. An altercation then ensued between prisoners and some of the prison guards. Some reports indicate that, at this point, the prison administration called in security forces from outside the prison to assist the guards in controlling the situation.

It appears that the situation became more serious and between 2pm and 3pm law-enforcement officials fired tear-gas grenades and then live ammunition at some of the prisoners. Amnesty International has not been able to ascertain whether the shots were fired by prison guards or security forces who had been called into the prison or both. One prisoner, Hafed Mansur Al-Zwai, allegedly received a bullet in the head and died shortly afterwards.

Another, Rida Al-Hariri, was reportedly carried out of the prison in a critical condition after being shot and is believed to have been taken to an intensive care unit in hospital. Eight other prisoners - 'Abd Al-Mun'em Ahmad 'Abd Al-Rahman, Hafed Al-Amani, Fadlallah Al-'Arabi, Al-Sanussi Al-Bashari, Ayman Al-Busufi, Ashraf Al-Fazzani, 'Abd Al-Wahab Al-Katshi and Khaled Al-Mansuri - were injured and taken to hospital for treatment. Most reportedly received bullet wounds to the body and may still be in a serious condition.

Later the same day, a delegation including senior security officials Abdullah Sanussi and Al-Mu'atassim Al-Gaddafi reportedly visited Abu Salim Prison and, together with the Director of Abu Salim Prison, 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Sayah, met a group composed of several representatives of the prisoners. The official delegation apparently expressed regret over the death and injuries which had occurred and informed the prisoners that they would ensure certain measures were taken in response to the events, such as a change of personnel within the prison guards.

Amnesty International is not aware of any official statement having been made on the incident, but Hamed Abu Jubira, editor of Al-Zahf Al-Akhdar (The Green March), a newspaper run by the Revolutionary Committees Movement, gave an interview to Al-Jazeera television station in the evening of 4 October 2006 in which he confirmed that an altercation had occurred between some of the prisoners and guards at Abu Salim Prison and that a committee of investigation into the incident had been set up.

In its letter to the Libyan authorities, Amnesty International sought assurances that any investigation will be conducted in line with international human rights standards, such as the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

It also urged that a review of the practices of law-enforcement officials inside prisons be carried out without delay to ensure that instructions given to them are consistent with international human rights standards, such as the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and that they are provided with adequate training in this regard.

Background

The trial which concluded on 4 October 2006 was conducted at an ad hoc court in Tripoli. The court had been ordered to retry the case of the some 190 prisoners by Libya's Supreme Court, which reviewed and overturned the original sentences following the abolition of the People's Court in January 2005. Many of the prisoners were reportedly arrested in the second half of the 1990s, after which they were reportedly held in prolonged incommunicado detention. Some allege that statements they made during the investigation of their case were extracted from them under torture or ill-treatment.

Abu Salim Prison is located in a compound of the Military Police in the area of Abu Salim, a suburb of Tripoli. It has a unique status among Libyan prisons in that it is run by the Internal Security Agency, rather than the General People's Committee for Justice. Hundreds of political prisoners have been detained there in recent years.

Abu Salim Prison was the scene of a mass killing of detainees in June 1996, with estimated figures of those killed ranging up to 1,200. The Libyan authorities initially denied that an incident had taken place, but Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Gaddafi acknowledged in April 2004 that killings had indeed occurred. The authorities told Human Rights Watch delegates visiting Libya in May 2005 that an investigation had been opened into the events, but no details have been made available regarding its timing, nature, scope or methods, or who is carrying it out.