Amina Jornazi

"Within two days my mother, four brothers, my husband and I were imprisoned"

Amina Faytouri Jornazi, known to her friends as Mona, opened her home to a young fighter from Derna named Saleh Moadib. Moadib was a fighter with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). The NFSL was an active Libyan opposition group and on 8 May 1984, they took part in an attempt to infiltrate the Bab al-Azizia compound and assassinate Gaddafi. Gunfire was exchanged but the attack was ultimately unsuccessful.

Moadib was injured during the attack and sought refuge. He went to the family home of Jornazi’s brother Khamies. They had previously studied together in Greece. Amina and Khamies’ mother declined to host him. He then went to the home in which Amina Jornazi lived with her husband Youssef and their four children. “He was badly injured. We knew the risks, but we had to help.”

Moadib had originally planned to stay for only a few days, but thousands of men were being arrested in relation to the failed attack and in June eight NFSL members were publically executed. Among them were Othman Zirti and Sadiq Shwehdy. “My brothers Khamies, Mohamed, Abdulsalam and Ali knew Saleh was staying at our place and would visit us during the 2 months and 18 days Saleh stayed with us. Eventually my husband, who worked fixing boats, made plans for a boat to take Saleh to Malta.”

Before Moadib could travel, his location and their plan were discovered. “They first arrested my brothers Khamies and Abdulsalam on Thursday 26 July. Mohamed then took Saleh to another hiding place and advised me to go and stay at my mother’s home since my husband was on a military service mission in the Aouzou.”

Within two days, Jornazi, her mother, the four brothers, and her husband Youssef were arrested and imprisoned.

“They came to my mother’s home at around sunset. Armed men and civilian officers began entering the home in droves, asking after Saleh and Khamies, and searching through the property. At 2:30am, Jornazi and her mother were arrested. “They said they were going to take my mother to hospital but of course I knew that made no sense. When we exited the house I was shocked to see so many vehicles with armed man inside then. All of that to arrest two women? We were taken straight to Abu Salim prison and my children stayed in the house with my sister Nabiha and grandmother.”

Jornazi’s four children were 10, 9, 2 and 1 years old at the time.

The women were blindfolded when they were arrested and sensed they were in a prison because of the long corridors and banging sounds of metal. “It was difficult seeing my mother treated like that. When we took the blindfolds off, we saw lots of cells, and dirty mattresses. My mother turned her face away from me. She had warned me not to help Saleh, she knew how bad the regime could be, and blamed me for the position she was now in.”
The cell they were moved to the following day had a blocked toilet, its lights were on day and night and mosquitoes filled the room.

“My mother was questioned for two days; I was questioned for six days. They brought in my brother Khamies during my interrogation. He was badly beaten all over his body and his clothes were covered in blood. He had no shoes on because his feet were so swollen. They also brought in my fifth brother Sabri, who showed no signs of abuse. Thankfully, he had been away during the past few months so wasn’t aware or involved in Saleh’s case at all and was able to help my sister raise my children during my absence.”

Thirty-three days after Jornazi and her mother were first arrested, they said farewell to their cellmates in Abu Salim. “The guards gave us our belongings and we thought we were going home. We were transported in a van with metal cells just large enough to be able to sit in. An hour later we found ourselves in Jdaida prison. I knew then we would be imprisoned for a long time.”

Jornazi’s cell was 5 by 5 metres and housed ten beds. “We were all political prisoners in our cell. We had our own little yard, around 3 by 2 metres, because they didn’t want us mingling with the criminals and influencing their politics. But we would talk to them through a small hole between the doors of our yards. I once asked one of the prisoners to visit my family and bring back a letter for me. She did, and I have it to this day. You don’t think about repercussions then, you just do what you need to. I needed to know how my children were.”

Jornazi’s children were being taken care of by her grandmother, her sister Nabiha, her brother Sabri. The children visited her in prison after one year. “They brought them in without Sabri, so the younger ones were disoriented and unfamiliar with me. It was awful.”

Her children visited her again the following year and the year after. “I missed out on four years of my children’s lives.” Jornazi, her mother and her brothers Abdulsalam and Mohamed were released in 1988. They had been accused of concealment, but never tried in court or seen a lawyer or judge.

Jornazi’s brother Ali was only released in 2001, after 18 years in prison. Her brother Khamies, husband Youssef and Saleh, the NFSL fighter they had hidden in their home, were released in 2002, after serving 19 years in prison.

Despite leaving her studies when she was a young teenager after her family moved from her mother’s homeland of Tunisia to Libya in 1968, Jornazi continued to have a deep appreciation and appetite for culture and literature. “I was well read and wanted to document my story. It all reminded me of the Dostoyevsky novel ‘Crime and Punishment’. But us political prisoners were denied pen and paper. I found that the milk cartons they would give us were wrapped in paper and so collected them and asked the Indian nurse to give me a pen.” Jornazi wrote diaries on the milk-carton paper throughout her four years in prison and sewed them into the bottom of her bag on her release so they wouldn’t be discovered when she was released.


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

This interview was recorded
at her home in Tripoli
on 11 December, 2012

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