LIBYA: Feb. 17 significant to jailed activists


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For Libyan anti-government activists, Feb. 17 is a symbolic date.

Security forces killed at least a dozen protesters during a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli on Feb. 17, 2006.

The following year, security forces detained 14 anti-government activists after they published an online appeal for a peaceful protest on Feb. 17. The men were initially sentenced to six to 25 years in prison, but were eventually released after the Gaddafi Foundation, headed by the son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, intervened.


One of the men, Jamal al-Haji, was arrested again earlier this month after he called for another demonstration Feb. 17.

Four more members of the group were arrested Wednesday, and remain in government custody, according to Human Rights Watch officials, who have called for their release.

Writer Idris al-Mismari was doing a live telephone interview with the satellite network Al Jazeera at 5 a.m. Wednesday, reporting that security officials in civilian clothes had used tear gas, batons and hot water to disperse protesters in Benghazi, when he was arrested and the line suddenly went dead, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Al Jazeera has been taken off Libya’s state-owned television network, but reported it was still available on satellite networks Thursday.

At about 7 a.m., Libyan security forces arrived at the home of Mohamed al-Sahim, who writes for independent Libyan websites such as Al Manara, and arrested him. Al-Sahim had attended an anti-government protest Tuesday night and posted a video on his Facebook page that quickly spread online. ‘February 17 is a date that resonates in Libya because it has come to symbolize peaceful protest in the face of police brutality,’ said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. ‘This time Libyan authorities should protect -- not violate -- the right to peaceful protest.’

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske