By Safa Alharathy
In January and September 2016, activists from the city of Derna launched “Save Prisoners in Qirnada” campaign after receiving reports from families of detainees over gross violations committed against prisoners in Qirnada Prison, and despite the attempts of civil organizations in Derna to visit the prisoners, their request had gone unanswered.
The Prison of Qirnada is one of most notorious prisons affiliated to Dignity Operation’s forces. It is located in Qirnada town, northeast of Libya, 20 km south of Bayda city.
A released inmate from Derna has chosen to speak up of what he experienced and to fight the collective silence for the crimes committed inside the prison, which is run by radical Salafist groups.
He told his story to Libya Khabar news outlet. He says,
I am a truck driver transporting goods to and from Derna. It was Thursday, 7 in the morning, I was leaving for Bayda city carrying local fresh grounded coffee from Derna.
The ranks of cars and trucks were stretched in very long lines at the city gates.
On that day, there was no security checks, all cars and trucks passed through safely and quickly.
After delivering my shipment, I went out of Bayda heading back home. I did not feel any sense of anxiety or depression despite the fear that comes over me before I set out for each business trip.
On the way, I passed through several checkpoints. The security was searching for any gas containers that one might try to enter into Derna. Cooking gas was part of the siege on Derna by Hafter’s forces.
The inspection was thorough. I started off towards a new checkpoint. As soon as I arrived, I spoke to myself “the officers seemed to be looking for someone.” The checkpoint commander came up to me and asked me calmly for my ID card. “Dernawi!” He exclaimed. “This means you are from ISIS!” he said. I answered that ISIS was finished in Derna, I did not mean anything by it, but my answer was met with verbal abuse.
He began shouting; “You ISIS are murderers, all of you are ISIS, Derna is a rouge city.” I lost my temper, I told him not to touch my car. The rest of the officers at the security check point joined in. Soon I was facing a whole series of punishments and humiliations.
They beat me up and put me in a white Chevrolet car. I could hear someone talking on the radio ” 8D 8D answer, we caught a …… insulting the Army.” The answer came “clear clear we’re ready”. Indeed, I have met the hell.
Three of the security guards escorted me in the chevorlate. One was pointing his gun to my head shackling and beating me from time to time. I kept silent, I didn’t know what to say and how to say it, it was too late to turn back now, and I could only blame myself.
I was shuffled from car to car throughout the journey until we finally came to a standstill. One of the guards came out of the car shouting at the top of his voice “We got hold of an ISIS come and take him away.”
I received the welcoming ritual for new comers. I was attacked and severely beaten, and I could remember yelling my guts out.
After being beaten, searched and yelled at, I was taken to a cell blind folded. They took everything I had including my watch, belt, phone, and money that I had.
I tried to pull myself together and reach for the door, banging and calling for the guard through the cell window. I called for several times until I heard footsteps coming down the hall, there were two of them, I wanted to tell them that I’ve learned my lesson and that I’ll never do it again. They opened the door, one of them was holding an iron tube about one meter’s long. Confusion and fear is the best way to describe that moment. He started beating me with the pipeline, while the other kept shackling, punching and kicking. Another drunk guard came in and joined them, it was like they were trying to prove who was strongest, baddest ant most violent.
I was waiting for anyone to ask me why I’m here or if somehow there has been a mistake. I want an investigation, I want someone to talk to about what I saw and suffered because of words I said to maintain my dignity that was insulted at the point. Many thoughts crossed my mind; I thought about the moments that I coulda, woulda, shoulda, took different choices. My life had just hit rock bottom and I couldn’t see any way up or out. I was in desperate need for support and healing.
I could hear distant voices but I couldn’t identify what they were, perhaps I was so depressed and downtrodden that I didn’t really care of what was going on around me. All my focus was on what I went through and more than anything…what could get worse.
Few hours later, a loud booming voice called several times. The sound of the cold steel windows in the cells slamming in a fast rhythm, the guard called at my window “Hey you ……” and before I could get on feet, he threw something on the flour, it was a piece of bread and cheese, which I had no interest in, I made it to the window and started calling on him “please sir I shouldn’t be here I’m here by mistake,” perhaps my words will find their way to listening ears, even though nothing at the time showed any evidence that this was a right expectation. One of the guards entered the cell and beat me up again, I come to the part that I just wanted to cry, I dared ask any more for anything.
This went on for a while it became a routine. After 30 days of solitary confinement, I was placed with four other people. I was very happy with the gloomy faces I met. I needed to talk to anyone about everything that happened to me. I was shocked with their carelessness, for every one of them suffered a similar experience.
Sometimes the sound of screaming just went on. I whispered to the one next to me, he told me it was the slow death chamber. I was shocked by what I heard, one of them was forced to sit on a hot electric stove, and who ever set foot in that room had experienced insults, physical abuse, nudity, etc. which I had to experience later.
At the end of February, I was transferred to another floor blind folded. The interrogator asked me about my name and why I was brought to Qirnada Prison, I went through every detail, and he said that he knew all of that and that he knows more, he went on asking, “Why do you hate the military? Why do you favor the terrorists in Derna? Why do you sit with A and why say hello to B!
I told him that those he mentioned were neighbors and we know each other since childhood, I greet them as everyone I know in the neighborhood or from my city.
This kept going on and on, they kept asking same questions and I repeated the same answers.
I came to the point by touching my own ground zero. I told the interrogator that I will confess everything they want, and I will sign of on that, I just can’t take it anymore.
Torture and interrogation stopped. Time in prison dragged on as you wouldn’t believe, we were seeking the out world news through every new prisoner.
One day, a sudden change happens, I was taken to the interrogation room again, but this time without having my eyes blinded, I was offered a cup of tea, the taste of tea was like candy in a baby’s mouth. The interrogator told me “They reached out to their special agents in Derna and they confirmed that I had no security issues.
I spent that night sleepless. The next morning there was a knock on the door of my cell; it was not the window this time, the door opened and came in the guard accompanied by my father and my brother. I threw myself in their arms, which was by far the greatest moment of the best day of my entire life.
My family went through a lot in finding me, my father said that all prisons and security points denied having me in, and gave no information what so ever until he got a tip from someone that I might be in Qirnada Prison, so he made his trip to Benghazi to meet a relative who had close ties with the General Command Base in Rujmah, which in turn had a greater role in my release.