Abubaker Shareef

"We would lie in the coffin-like box and our hands and feet, protruding through holes, would be electrocuted"

Abubaker Ali Shareef was a 22-year-old student of law at Benghazi University when he was first arrested. “I was part of the student movement in Benghazi. We were a group of students with good grades and a desire to establish an independent student union and rid the university of government interference. In those days the revolutionary councils of Gaddafi and the internal security forces put pressures on the university.”

Following a conflict between the students and the authorities at the university in April 1982, many students were arrested in Benghazi and Bayda. “They arrested 52 of us at first, then whittled us down to eight. They interrogated us in the 7 April prison in Benghazi for three months and then took us to the civilian prison of Jdaida in Tripoli.”

The months they spent in the 7 April prison were terrible. “The prisoner in the cell next to mine, Naji bou Hawiya, died after three days of consecutive torture. I saw remnants of blood in the bathroom when I went. We suffered the same torture.” Shareef recalls a coffin used as a confessional box. “We would lie in the closed box, our hands and feet protruding through small holes. There were smaller holes around our mouth area. We would be electrocuted and beaten with sticks. If we passed out, they would pour water through the holes by our mouths to wake us up. It was a very difficult experience. They put me in it on my very first day in prison. Even now, thirty years later, you can see the scars on the back from where they beat me and put out cigarettes on my body.”

The facilities at the prison were also very unhygienic. “We would be allowed to use the washroom for exactly two minutes per day. There was no running water. There was blood everywhere, and the smell of sweat, urine, and other such odours filled the rooms.”
Shareef has since gained access to his intelligence file. In it was a photograph of a young handsome 22-year-old with wild hair and a grown beard. “They took this photograph of me when I arrived to Jdaida, after three months imprisoned in Benghazi.”

Five months later, on 12 December 1982, the students went before a court. “It was the permanent revolutionary court and was headed by people with no link to the law. We had no lawyers. They offered to release us on condition that they would execute us if we were later found to be supporting opposition movements in any way.”

Shareef returned to Benghazi to complete his studies. Every six months he had to complete a form for the internal security in which he would identify his car, his income, his friends, and phone calls he had made and received.

“The 1980s was a terrible time for the Libyan people. It was difficult to subdue our political thoughts, after we had experienced the torture and the injustice for ourselves. Our ties were no longer organised, but ideological. We would visit each other and try to keep the struggle alive.”

International ties were very limited and Libyans found themselves unable to gain books and international media. “Our role then was to smuggle in books and form cultural intellectual circles.”

17 months after his release, Shareef found himself back in prison, this time in the Tripoli’s military intelligence prison. “I knew I was there because I could hear the ships by the port.” He had been handcuffed and blindfolded when arrested. “There was no accusation, warrant or lawyer.”

Shareef knew they would be looking for him after the armed conflict between the authorities and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya at the Bab al-Azizia compound on 8 May 1984. “They were arresting anyone with a history of being an oppositionist. So I hid away from home, but they found me and arrested me on 13 May.”

Shareef lost 20 kilograms during his four-moth-stay there. “When I was released, I was a different person. I could barely walk. The food was bad and there was little of it. The rooms were damp and dark and infested with insects and rats.”

Shareef slept on a cement bed, alone in cell no 24, with no link to the outside world. “They interrogated me asking if I had any link to the foreign based oppositionists. I was electrocuted, beaten and threatened with dogs.”

The investigatory council decided to release Shareef in September of the same year, warning him that he would “be kept under observation.”


English-language captions will be added to this video soon.

This interview was recorded
at the former military intelligence prison in Tripoli
on 9 December, 2012


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