Jailed Gaddafi loyalists demand freedom
Tripoli - Inmates accused of bearing arms under the ousted regime of Libya's slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi have been rotting in jail for weeks with no charges against them, and now they want their freedom.
"First of all we want to know why we are here," said one prisoner, echoing the demands of other detainees at Al-Khandak prison in Tripoli's Tajura suburb.
In the jail, the ambience is rather good-natured as cells open onto the main courtyard where some prisoners are allowed to go for walks freely.
"I favour the former regime. It is not a crime. Just like many other people, we were influenced by the mass media of Gaddafi," Othman Mokhtar, who is in his fifties, told AFP.
"It is true that I carried arms, but not to kill my Libyan brothers. I saw Africans holding arms to defend Gaddafi. I thought that I could do the same. It is my duty as a Libyan."
Mokhtar said he surrendered his weapon to the National Transitional Council on October 03.
"The next day, three [NTC] cars came and took me from home. I still do not know why," he added.
Next to Mokhtar stood 30-year-old Amer Salem, who said he was arrested as he left Bani Walid, which was one of Gaddafi’s last bastions, 170km southwest of Tripoli.
"We fled Bani Walid when battles began in the city in September. I was driving my car with my wife and children. We passed checkpoints without a hitch, but I was intercepted 15km further on," he said.
"They drove me here after seizing my car and all the silver I had. In the beginning the guards beat us every day, but now things have improved a lot."
Ali Ayad, 26, was also arrested as he left Bani Walid.
"I have been in prison for 65 days. My family learned that I was still alive yesterday," he said.
Human rights organisations have called on Libya's new rulers to end arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of prisoners.
Hundreds of prisoners, including former regime officials, are still awaiting trial as the new regime is slow in creating a justice system.
Under its roadmap for the transition, the NTC announced on October 24 that it expects to appoint a transitional government within a month, followed eight months later by the election of a constituent assembly.
Sitting alone in the main courtyard under a gentle November sun, a former soldier said he has been in the prison since the fall of Tripoli in late August.
"I’ve not committed a crime"
"I was a soldier. It was my duty to obey orders and take my position. If I did not do that, my family would have been killed. I had no choice," he said, speaking on a condition of anonymity.
"Thank God I have not killed anybody. We are awaiting investigation. I have not committed a crime. I don't know why I'm here," said the father of four, adding that his family has visited him in jail several times.
His family received his monthly salary in August and September.
"I do not know if they got it in October," he said.
Like all other prisons in Libya, Al-Khandak is now run by volunteers.
"All of those who work here are volunteers," said prison official Abdelwahed Annaas.
"We run the prison through donations and personal effort. We are able to provide three meals a day for prisoners as well as medical aid."