BBC team detained, tortured by Gaddafi forces

Three BBC journalists covering the civil unrest in Libya were arrested and tortured by forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi, before being subjected to a mock execution.

Soldiers fired shots past the heads of the journalists, and they were made to wear hoods and told they were to be killed. At one stage the journalists were held in a cage while Libyan captives around them them were tortured. All journalists were in the country with permission of the Libyan government.

Describing the other prisoners, Turkish cameraman Goktay Koraltan said “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.”

UK national Chris Cobb-Smith said the three journalists were lined up facing a wall while a man put a submachine gun next to their necks and pulled the trigger.

A Palestinian reporter for BBC Arabic, Feras Killani, was interrogated and then taken to a carpark where he was beaten with a pipe and a long stick. Killani then had a mask taped to his face through which he struggled to breathe.

After the BBC and the UK Foreign Office intervened, a Libyan man “who spoke perfect Oxford English” arrived and signed the paperwork to release the three reporters.

“They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food,” the reporters said.

The BBC team had been covering a battle 30 miles from the Libyan capital when they were arrested at a checkpoint.


Deploy UN peacekeepers to Libya, urges Maldives President

President Mohamed Nasheed has called for the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in the troubled gulf state of Libya, in an effort “to contain” its leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Nasheed made the suggestion during an interview on ‘Walk the Talk’, a current affairs program on Indian television station NDTV.

The Libyan government, a 42 year autocracy under Gaddafi, is facing rising international censure after using African mercenaries and military hardware – including anti-aircraft missiles – against civilian protesters.

At least 300 people are believed dead in the uprising while armed opposition groups now control much of the east of the country including Zawiyah, a town just 30 miles from the west of the capital of Tripoli. The British SAS meanwhile evacuated more than 500 British oil workers from a staging point in the Libyan desert, using C-130 Hercules transports.

“I feel that the UN should now be thinking about peacekeeping in Libya – on the ground intervention. This is very important,” Nasheed said on ‘Walk the Talk’.

“It is very disturbing to see the whole thing being played out, and everyone talking about their nationals – we all humans and sovereignty cannot be played over humanity,” Nasheed said.

“It is very disturbing to hear everyone talking only about their own nationals. People should be talking about Libya and the people. You kill an Indian, you kill a Libyan, what difference does that make? You’ve killed someone.”

Direct action was needed, Nasheed said, rather than the further economic sanctions that had been imposed.

“[The international community] are talking about sanctions – but Libyans already can’t import anything,” he said.

Nasheed noted that Gaddafi had survived the extreme political turbulence of the last 3-4 days, and said he was “very jittery” about the prospects of the leader stepping down voluntarily.

“Certainly he should go – I’ve no doubt about that,” he said. “It is our responsibility to make sure that at the end of the day we don’t have headlines saying 500,000 people are dead from aerial bombing in Libya.”

The Maldives, Nasheed said, was a “laboratory case” for the current call for democracy in the Middle East and the ousting of autocratic leaders.

“For the last 100 years Maldivian leaders have tried to emulate Egypt. There was Gayoom, but other leaders before him also studied in Egypt.

“What they need now are political parties. We will always support movement in any country when people want to be free – it is very important for development that countries haves strong political parties and free and fair elections.”

The uprisings had showcased that there was “no contradiction between Islam and democracy”, Nasheed said. “We are a 100 percent Muslim country and we have been able to galvanise the public for political activism, we’ve been able to amend our constitution, we able to build political parties, we have had free and fair presidential elections, parliamentary elections, local elections, we have separation of powers, we have a very vibrant independent media, we have all the fundamental rights – but all that requires space for organised political activism.”

A theocracy based around an extreme religious idea, Nasheed said, was simply “The camoflage of a standard dictatorship – except in the name of God.”

Issues such as Israel and Middle East peace issues could be more easily dealt with in a free and democratic country, Nasheed said.

“We have been able to have a number contacts with Israel now – the people have no issue with that.”

Queried by the interviewer about the widespread public anger Nasheed faced when reaching out to Israel, Nasheed claimed that “there is always organised opposition, and there should be and we can always talk about it and give our point of view.”

The uprisings had broken many Middle Eastern stereotypes, Nasheed agreed.

“Finally we will be able to show Islam for what it is – a high sophisticated intellectual life, that is highly attractive to people.”

Asked by the interviewer if he himself was “a devout Muslim”, Nasheed described himself as “practicing”, “but I don’t think that necessarily narrows my thinking or my attitude or my interactions with anyone.”

The interviewer also challenged Nasheed on how the Maldives could balance a broadly Islamic population with the influences of Western-style beach tourism.

“Traditionally we were Sufi Muslim, so therefore we were very liberal,” Nasheed said. “But in 70s we had wahabism starting to come in. Then in the late 70s Gayoom came to power, after living in Egypt.

“There was always a tendency to use religion or verses from the Quran or hadiths to justify yourself or justify your actions. Some other leader might have said “for development’. But Gayoom would say, ‘for God, so that we may attain paradise.’ What you are really saying is that you are building a school.”


The ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’

Former State Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed recently joined a chorus of world leaders denouncing Libyan strongman Muammar-al-Gaddafi, calling him a “wicked, cruel” man.

“Wicked” and “cruel” might not be entirely out of place to describe the eccentric colonel who has ruled Libya with an iron fist for four decades, and virtually given his loyalists a free license to hunt down pro-democratic protestors, even as Human Rights groups pegged the current death toll at over 2000.

In his first interview on State-run television after the uprising began earlier this month, Gaddafi appeared wearing a hat with ear-flaps, holding an umbrella in the rain, leaning outside a vehicle resembling an armoured Tuk-Tuk outside the bombed ruins of his residence.

Thus, in a world that has seen colourful dictators ranging from Idi Amin to Kim Jong-Il, Gaddafi has steadfastly managed to hold his own, and occasionally push the envelope even further.

Addressing a loyal crowd gathered at the Green Square in Tripoli on Friday, he alleged that the revolts were sparked by youth under the influence of mind-altering pills mixed into milk and Nescafe by al-Qaeda. Fantastic claims like these have led to even traditionally timid, conservative media to label the ageing dictator outright insane.

Analysts reject any role of the al-Qaeda in the ongoing Middle Eastern democratic revolutions that has toppled long-reigning dictators in two of Libya’s immediate neighbours, and ended a two decade emergency in another.

According to Al-Jazeera, several international Libyan diplomats and military commanders have abandoned Gaddafi. On Friday, the Libyan ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, who resigned earlier this month, hoisted the pre-Gaddafi era national flag at the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Having already lost control of the Eastern half of his country, Gaddafi sought in vain to employ the nexus between the state and the mosque to deter protestors on Friday.

In a sermon aired on national television, the speaker was quoted as preaching “As the prophet said, if you dislike your ruler or his behaviour, you should not raise your sword against him, but be patient, for those who disobey the rulers will die as infidels.”

Ironically, Muammar al-Gaddafi himself came to power in a coup against Libyan King Idris in 1969, as a dashing, popular 27 year-old colonel.

As a teenager, he was strongly influenced by the fiery Arab Nationalist rhetoric of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and was once expelled from school for organizing a pro-Nasser student protest.

Inspired by Chinese Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’, Gaddafi also penned a three volume ‘Green Book’, with the subtitle ‘The Solution to the Problem of Democracy’, in which he outlined his philosophy of ‘Islamic Socialism’. The book was also reportedly distributed in the Maldives by former Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In his book, Gaddafi notes that in an ideal state, the government disappears to pave way for the rule of the people. But 40 years later, Libyans are finding it tough to convince their leader to follow his own advice.

King of Kings

Analysts have struggled to understand the unpredictable, erratic and bizarre ways of Gaddafi.

During his 42 years in power, Gaddafi has never been the President or a party leader. The title he holds is “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Revolution.”

He has reportedly accumulated a massive fortune of 60 billion dollars over the years, and exhibits a taste for flamboyant, flowing robes and aviator sunglasses.

Gaddafi’s eccentric nature made global headlines during a 2007 visit to France, when he arrived with an entourage of over 400 staff, a fleet of armoured limos, a giant heated tent, and a camel. His 40 member security detail, often called the ‘Amazonian guard’, consists of han-dpicked voluptuous virgins trained in body combat, who all sport lipstick, eye-liner and sometimes high-heels, and are trained killers who never leave his side day or night. Despite the public claims of chastity, several reports state that they frequently provide sexual favours.

In a conservative region where women are traditionally restricted, Gaddafi hails his sharply dressed female security team as a sign of women’s empowerment.

Gaddafi has also never shied away from provoking controversy or antagonizing world leaders, leading the former US President Ronald Reagan to label him the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’.

In what has been variously been described as choreographed buffoonery or downright megalomania, he stormed out of a 2009 Arab Summit in Doha after asserting himself as “the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa, and the Imam of all Muslims”.

In fact, a year earlier, Gaddafi did indeed proclaim himself the ‘King of Kings of Africa’, during a ceremony attended by over 200 traditional African kings and tribal leaders.

John Simpson of the BBC recounts an unforgettable interview with Gaddafi, where the Libyan leader repeatedly broke wind loudly throughout the conversation.

Gaddafi’s foreign policy is as odd, whimsical and mercurial as his personality.

Time Magazine reported that following the arrest of Gaddafi’s son, Hannibal, in Geneva for allegedly beating up two servants, he cancelled commercial flights between the two countries, withdrew $5 billion from Swiss Bank accounts and shut down local offices of Swiss companies Nestlé and ABB.

Gaddafi even submitted a proposal to the UN to abolish Switzerland and divide it up along linguistic lines, awarding the parts to Germany, France and Italy.

At various points during his reign, he expelled up to 25,000 Italians and 30,000 Palestinians from Libya, and closed down US and British military bases.

He has also converted a Catholic cathedral in Tripoli into a mosque named after Nasser.

In 1975, Nasser’s successor in Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat, called Gaddafi “100 percent sick and possessed by the devil”.

In a meandering, long-winded address to the UN General Assembly in 2009, described by some Arab diplomats as ‘vintage Gaddafi’, he offered to move the UN headquarters to Tripoli, demanded an inquiry into the assassination of John F Kennedy, suggested that Swine Flu was a Western conspiracy, and reiterated an earlier demand for Israel and Palestine to be united into a single state called ‘Isratine’.

In one frenzied moment, Gaddafi tore up a copy of the UN Charter, refuted its legitimacy – and referred to the UN Security Council as a ‘terror council’.

Gaddafi’s own translator reportedly collapsed from exhaustion towards the end of his speech, which is the third longest speech in UN history – but still modest in comparison to Indian ambassador Krishna Menon’s eight-hour marathon address in 1957, whose official transcript runs into 160 pages.

During an August 2010 visit to Italy, he upset his hosts by declaring that “Islam should become the religion of all of Europe”, and gave each member of his hired audience a copy of the Qur’an.

Last Bedouin

Gaddafi loathes Islamic fundamentalists. Nearly 50 religious seminaries were reportedly shut down in the late 1980s. His harsh crackdown on radical Islam forced the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups in Libya to go into exile.

Nevertheless, in the past, Gaddafi has reportedly financed numerous militant groups, including Black September, which behind the attacks on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 2003, Libya formally accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, which killed all 270 people on board.

In a volte-face during the last decade, however, Gaddafi started making amendments with the West, even opening up his weapons facilities for foreign inspectors to dismantle.

In the wake of the popular revolutions, however, the West appears to have decided it is time for Gaddafi to go.

The UN Human Rights Council has unanimously suspended Libya’s membership. The US has imposed sanctions, the Swiss have frozen his assets, and France has begun investigations in the Gaddafis’ finances.

Former Libyan Justice Minister, Mustafa Mohamed Abud al-Jeleil, reportedly said that he believes Gaddafi would ultimately choose to commit suicide like the vanquished Hitler, than surrender power gracefully.
Indeed, this week, Gaddafi has defiantly vowed to arm his supporters to ‘cleanse’ Libya– a move that Angela Merkel of Germany has equated to a declaration of war against Libyan people, signalling more bloodshed.

But as former ally Hosni Mobarak could tell him, declaring war upon one’s own people is often a futile exercise.


Gaddafi is “a wicked, cruel, evil man”: Former State Islamic Minister

Former State Islamic Minister and member of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has called on the international community to help stop the “violent inhumane actions” of Muammar-al-Gaddafi.

”Gaddafi is wicked evil man whose cruelty has reached to an extreme level,” said Sheikh Shaheem in a statement. ”He has used excessive force over the citizens of Libya.”

Sheikh Shaheem said that today all the Muslims should pray for the citizens of Libya, ”and should pray that he gets destroyed by his own evil actions.”

Prominent scholars in Palestine, Sudan, Egypt and other religious councils have consistently condemned the actions of Gaddafi, said Sheikh Shaheem.

”Some scholars have permitted [to have] his blood due to his evil actions,” he said. ”And I would like to take this opportunity to assure the citizens of Libya that we are with them.”

He called on the international community on behalf of the Adhaalath Party to help the citizens of Libya.

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday also called on the international community to “strengthen measures to realise the aspirations of the Libyan people to fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“The right not to be tortured, the freedom to speak your mind, the ability to choose your own government… these liberties are not the preserve of Western nations but universal values to which everyone aspires,” Nasheed said. “These are the forces that are being played out on the streets of Libya and other countries of the Middle East.”

The Foreign Ministry has lost contact with six Maldivians in Libya, although it has not received reports of any injuries.

“We were checking on their condition until yesterday when we were unable to contact them via phone. Their phones would not ring, either,” a Foreign Ministry official told newspaper Haveeru.

“We are trying to contact them and are looking into any possible way that we could contact them through Dhiraagu. We are also trying to contact the Maldivians through an embassy in Libya of a friendly nation.”

The Libyan President yesterday vowed on national television that he will not step down from the country’s leadership, and was ready “to die a martyr.”

Speaking in the third person, Gaddafi said “I am not going to leave this land. I shall remain, defiant. Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

US President Barack Obama has meanwhile broken his silence over the Libyan situation and outright condemned Gaddafi’s tactic of using violence against the demonstrators. The US President has sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Europe to attend a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop,” said President Obama said.

Minivan News has meanwhile obtained a copy of Gaddafi’s ‘Little Green Book’, entitled “The Solution of the Problem of Democracy”, copies of which were reportedly gifted to a generation of Maldivian school students under former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.


UN Security Council meets as Gaddafi vows “to die a martyr”

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi has vowed on national television that he will not step down from the country’s leadership, and was ready “to die a martyr.”

Speaking in the third person, Gaddafi said “I am not going to leave this land. I shall remain, defiant. Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

The leader of the 42 year-old autocracy has reportedly used African mercenaries, snipers and even anti-aircraft missiles to target increasingly fractious demonstrators, with reports of 200-300 killed.

Referring to his green copy of the Libyan penal code, Gaddafi stated that anyone Libyan who “uses weapons against Libya will be sentenced to death.”

The public speech, he said, was intended to refute earlier reports in the international media that he had escaped to Venezuela.

A New York Times journalist in the country reported that much of the east appeared to now be under opposition control. Many of the protesters were armed, she observed.

The UN Security Council has meanwhile called for Gaddafi to cease his campaign of violence against his own people, deploring “the repression of peaceful demonstrators.”

Libya’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim al-Dabashi, defected from Gaddafi’s regime and confirmed that the east of the country was no longer under government control. He said he had received reports of “genocide” occurring in the country’s west.

The UN Security Council’s message to Gaddafi was “not strong enough. But any message to the Libyan government at this stage is good,” he said.

As well as losing the UN delegation, Gaddafi has lost at least one military battalion and two air force colonels, who flew to Malta in their jets and requested asylum after refusing to bomb protesters.

The Maldives has meanwhile joined Jordan and Qatar among Muslim nations called for an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, on which Libya also sits.

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed called on the international community to “strengthen measures to realise the aspirations of the Libyan people to fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“The right not to be tortured, the freedom to speak your mind, the ability to choose your own government… these liberties are not the preserve of Western nations but universal values to which everyone aspires,” Nasheed said. “These are the forces that are being played out on the streets of Libya and other countries of the Middle East.”

Established democracies had a responsibility to assist those who aspired to democracy and basic freedoms, he said.

Retired British MP Robert Key, who is currently visiting the Maldives for the first time since taking its case for democracy to the British parliament, said earlier this week that the Maldives had led “blazed a trail in promoting democracy and empowerment of the citizen, with all the difficulties that presents”, and could “hold its head high”.

“There will be leaders in North Africa who will be wishing they had listened to the Maldives, had done what the Maldives chose to do in 2008,” he said.

Oil prices spiked to US$106 a barrel on the back of ongoing unrest in the region.