Out of the many images and videos that are emerging after the liberation of Tripoli from Gaddafi, one is particularly poignant and meaningful. This YouTube video shows anti-Gaddafi fighters and civilians breaking open the cells of Abu Salim prison, releasing the hundreds of prisoners inside.
As each cell is opened a great roar goes around and the poor men inside the pretty bare cells reveal faces brimming with joy. Their freedom was the best outcome they could have hoped for. Abu Salim has a dark history.
In 1996, the Gaddafi regime committed one of its worst crimes. After a revolt, prisoners were told to gather in the central courtyard. Once they were assembled the prisoners were massacred, attacked by weaponry from all sides. The killing went on for hours. The dead were then buried in unknown mass graves. Figures vary, but Human Rights Watch puts the number of murdered prisoners at 1,270.
There were countless other victims throughout Gaddafi’s 42 year reign of terror.
The Libyan people know the pain of the disappearance of a family member or a friend. They know the pain of the murder of those close to them.
They saw the young men hanged in school gymnasiums for the crime of speaking out.
And for what? Gaddafi’s bizarre political philosophy? The people’s committees, supposedly the most direct form of democracy; in reality another of the Brother Leader’s charades? The dictator’s obsession with the colour green?
Legions of Libyans fled into exile – but Gaddafi’s henchmen continued to terrorise them in their adopted lands. Gaddafi actively promoted the assassination of dissidents living abroad, and many unfortunate souls met their fate at the hands of Gaddafi agents. Men like Mohammed Ramadan and Mahmoud Nafi were assassinated in London, ‘liquidated’ by the regime.
However, it was not just Libyan dissidents who were targeted by Gaddafi. Whilst the Lockerbie bombing is still shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984 is clear. Policing a protest of Libyan dissidents she was shot by an official inside the Libyan embassy in London.
Gaddafi has garnered support from those who have overlooked his oppression of the people he ruled, instead focusing on Gaddafi as a supposed anti-imperialist hero of the third world. But even this face of Gaddafi is simply a façade. The Colonel’s attempt to portray himself as the simple Arab Bedouin, always travelling in his tent, is belied by the lavish personal jet he formerly travelled in, the mansions and villas owned by the Gaddafi clan, and even the tent itself – a colossal structure that misses the point of attempting to project simplicity.
With the inspiration of their Arab neighbours, the long-suffering Libyan people rose up in the February 17th revolution. They took to the streets and faced the bullets of the Gaddafi regime long before Nato intervention was even talked about. Those in Benghazi, Misrata and other places were able to overpower the loyalist forces and liberate their towns and cities. Others who rose up in Tripoli, Zawiya and elsewhere were brutally put down. The massacres committed by the regime over the last few months are only just coming to light – but there will be more and more ghastly discoveries to come.
The NTC faces many difficulties in the coming months, not everyone who was a part of the revolution can be trusted and there were many opportunists. They have to be wary of being seen to be a puppet regime of the West. One thing is certain though, Gaddafi is gone, never to return. The age of the fear is over in Libya. The age of terror is over in Libya. Libyans can finally breathe again.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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