Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, August 19, 2011 - Libyan government forces appear to have executed 10 protesters following an anti-government demonstration in the town of Bani Walid on May 28, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Earlier on that day government forces fired on apparently peaceful protesters, killing at least two and wounding 10, in the government-controlled town about 170 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tripoli. After the protest, a rebel sympathizer apparently killed a government paramilitary commander and two bodyguards.
Human Rights Watch interviewed six men with knowledge of the day's events, including three who saw government forces fire on the demonstrators. Three of the men spoke on cell phones with the protesters who were later killed as they sought shelter in a nearby building after the demonstration. One of these men watched government forces storm the building and heard automatic weapon fire.
"The apparent execution by Libyan forces of 10 men is stomach-turning," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Libya's government should recognize that atrocities committed even in remote places like Bani Walid will see the light of day."
Libya's Minister of Justice Mohammed al-Gamudi and General Prosecutor Mohammad Zakri told Human Rights Watch during a recent visit to Tripoli that they were unaware of any killings in Bani Walid on May 28, or any investigations there.
Videos apparently showing the May 28 demonstration in Bani Walid and parts of the apparent execution have been available on YouTube for several weeks, but details of the killings only emerged when Human Rights Watch interviewed the witnesses and victims' relatives in early July, after they fled the government-held town.
The witnesses and other Bani Walid residents told Human Rights Watch that the May 28 protest was the first significant anti-government demonstration in the town since a protest on March 3, which proceeded peacefully. At the first anti-government protest in Bani Walid, on February 20, government forces fired in the air to disperse about 800 marchers.
The May 28 demonstration began about 3 p.m., when a crowd of nearly 300 people gathered in front of the Saadi Tabuli school and peacefully shouted anti-government slogans, three witnesses told Human Rights Watch. None of the protesters were seen carrying weapons during the demonstration, they said. Three videos viewed by Human Rights Watch apparently of the demonstration show no protesters with visible weapons.
When the demonstration began to grow, three witnesses said, a government paramilitary group called the Jafal Nusur el-Fetah ("Jafal") opened fire on the crowd, killing at least two men and wounding 10. One of the wounded protesters, "Ahmed" (not his real name), told Human Rights Watch how the government forces attacked.
At least one video appears to show the shooting inside the room. Human Rights Watch could not confirm that the video was shot on May 28 in Bani Walid, but Futmani identified two of the bodies in the video as his nephew, Mustafa Abdullah Salah el-Futmani, a 29-year-old imam and professor of Islamic studies, and 38-year-old Fawzi Shlafty. Bani Walid residents told Human Rights Watch that they believe the video was recorded on the cell phone of one of the Jafal members.
The video shows at least seven motionless men on the floor. A group of men in civilian clothes, one wearing a cap with Muammar Gaddafi’s photo, are standing and shouting in a western Libyan accent. One man is visible pointing a handgun and another holds a rifle. At one point, a man can be heard saying: “He’s alive, he’s alive.” About 14 individual gunshots and a short volley of automatic gunfire follow.
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"A prompt and impartial investigation is needed for a full accounting of the deaths on May 28 in Bani Walid," Whitson said. "But the Libyan government has shown no inclination to investigate alleged government abuses or see that they stop."
Click here for the full press release, which includes a list of the dead and detailed accounts of the events
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