Tripoli—Eastern Libyan military courts have sentenced at least 22 people to death and jailed hundreds more since 2018 in “sham, torture-tainted” trials to exert control, Amnesty International said Monday.
“Military courts have convicted hundreds of civilians in eastern Libya in secret and grossly unfair military trials,” the London-based rights group said.
The trials were “aimed at punishing real or perceived opponents and critics” of the forces loyal to eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, it added.
Those convicted include journalists, peaceful protesters, and individuals who criticized Haftar’s forces on social media.
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict since the toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising a decade ago.
The country had been divided between two rival administrations: the UN-recognized government based in Tripoli, and its rival in the east, loyal to Haftar.
Fighting only came to a halt last summer, and a formal ceasefire in October was followed by the establishment of a new unity government ahead of elections planned for December.
Amnesty said former detainees they interviewed “detailed a catalogue of abuses”, including being “abducted and detained for up to three years” before being taken to military trial.
Others said they had been “held incommunicado for up to 20 months” as well as reporting being “beaten, threatened and water-boarded”, and “forced to sign ‘confessions’ to crimes they did not commit,” according to the rights group.
Amnesty’s Diana Eltahawy said military trials were used by the eastern forces as means of “exerting their power to punish those who oppose them and instill a climate of fear”.
Trials were sometimes held without lawyers or even the defendants, “undermining any semblance of justice”, Eltahawy added.
It was not clear if the 22 death sentences had been carried out, but Amnesty said Libyan rights groups had reported at least 31 executions between 2018 and 2020.
The new unity government “must immediately put an end to the military trial of civilians, and order investigations into torture and other crimes under international law committed by armed groups,” Amnesty said.