Libya: Abduction epidemic continues as media worker still held after 60 days

As UN-led talks over the formation of a Government of National Accord continue, media worker Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi, taken at gunpoint from his workplace in Tripoli, becomes yet another victim of an abduction epidemic that has continued unabated. Amnesty International calls on the Libyan authorities and all those effectively in control on the ground, to secure Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi’s immediate and unconditional release, and ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment.

During the late morning hours of 16 December 2015, four vehicles which witnesses identified as belonging to the al-Burkan Brigade, pulled up to the New Media Development Centre in the Tripoli suburb of Hay al-Andalus where Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was working as a multimedia specialist. Armed men stormed into the building, brandishing what they claimed was an official order for Abdelsalam’s arrest by the Army Chief of Staff of the Tripoli National Salvation Government. According to eyewitnesses, the men then took Abdelsalam away in one of their vehicles, stealing the company manager’s car as they left. Abdelsalam’s fate and whereabouts have since remained unknown, while his family and friends have not heard from him or those responsible for his abduction.

Amnesty International fears that Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was abducted and is being detained solely on account of his opinion and activism. The organisation also fears that he may be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, which remains widespread in both official and unofficial detention centres across Libya. A father of two, Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was an active contributor to initiatives supporting freedom of speech and expression in Libya. He held critical views of the presence of militia forces in Tripoli and regularly shared these and other opinions with a long list of friends and associates in media. According to his family, the fact that the perpetrators have not attempted to contact them or request a ransom suggests that Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi’s abduction was in reprisal for his views.

“The worst thing is not knowing. As his father, I just want to know where he is.”

Father of missing journalist Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi

His father told Amnesty International that “the worst thing is not knowing. As his father, I just want to know where he is.” Under international humanitarian law, which continues to be applicable in Libya, the Tripoli authorities as well as any armed groups acting on their behalf, are under an obligation to inform families of the fate and whereabouts of their abducted relatives and ensure that all those deprived of their liberty are treated humanely and are allowed to communicate with their family.

Human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists have been the target of abductions, assassinations and threats since 2014. Many have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including beatings with plastic pipes, whippings and electric shocks. Abdel Moez Banoun, a political rights activist and blogger, has been missing for 566 days - since 24 July 2014. His abduction has been linked to his vocal opposition to the General National Congress’s mandate extension in June 2014, as well as for organizing demonstrations against the presence of militias in Tripoli. His fate and whereabouts have remained unknown since his abduction.

Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi’s abduction at gunpoint in the daylight hours of a popular Tripoli suburb highlights the impunity with which such abductions have been, and continue to be, carried out. To Amnesty International’s knowledge, not a single militia or security force member has been brought to justice for abductions, torture and other serious violations committed since the outbreak of armed conflict between rival Libyan factions in mid-2014.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of any individuals held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression or on the basis of their origin, political opinion. The organization also calls on the Tripoli authorities, as well as all parties to the ongoing conflicts, to inform families of the fate of abducted relatives, and to publicly condemn, and take action to stop, human rights abuses - including abductions - from taking place