Moftah Hamad Sharef studied at the Italian air college between 1960 and 1964. He returned to Libya to join its air force and during the war of 1967 took his plane, unauthorised, to Algeria in the hopes of joining the fighters in Egypt. The plan didn’t work out and in December he returned to Libya and a sentence of six years imprisonment.
“I spent the first year in Bab al-Azizia and was then moved to the prison for political prisoners in Jdaida. It wasn’t really a prison; it was a rest place. Visits were allowed any time, married men had special rooms to be alone with their wives and families, and we had wide fields to walk in and were treated very well. I don’t imagine there was a better prison in the world, be it for political or other prisoners.”
Sharef was released from prison one or two days after the coup of 1 September 1969 that toppled the monarchy and placed Gaddafi in power. He retuned to the air force but handed in his resignation three months later, wanting to transition to commercial airlines. The commander of the air force rejected his resignation. “I still intended to submit my resignation again, but had to wait a while before I could. In the meantime, Gaddafi was flying to Egypt to meet with Abdel Nasser and I wanted to be there.” Sharef’s motivation was the new VIP Jetstar plane in which Gaddafi would be travelling. He was fascinated and wanted to observe the new American machine in action.
“I had decided by the end of the trip to submit my resignation directly to Gaddafi, but two days after returning from Egypt I was arrested in relation to a conspiracy led by the then defence minister Adam Hawas and interior minister Moussa Ahmad. 28 people were charged in this case, but I was the only one charged solely with withholding information and sentenced to one year in jail.” In military law, a sentence of jail time, as opposed to time in prison, is much less severe in terms of rights and treatment.
“A few months into my sentence, a new committee was assembled to review the case. It was headed by Sulaiman Sheaib, Gaddafi’s brother in law. I wasn’t surprised; this is the way of dictators. I suspect that Abdel Nasser, on seeing me with Gaddafi, advised him to be careful of those around him that were too close or too much of a threat, and that’s why Gaddafi then sought to discredit and remove me.”
Sharef’s sentence was raised from one year in jail to 13 years in prison; with no explicate accusation or charge attached. “The role of this committee was purely to read out the ruling of Gaddafi. Hussain Saddiq, his former office manager, confirmed to me when he was later in prison with us, that Gaddafi had written the rulings down himself in red ink.”
Despite his sentence, Sharef spent 18 years in prison and was only released during the period known as ‘Asbah al Soubh’ [a new dawn] in March 1988. “Based on the law, I should have been released because of good behaviour in 1979, after 9 years, but even in 1983 when I had served my sentence in full, I sent letters that went unanswered.”
Prisoners from various cases whose sentences had expired where put together in one section. By that time, Sharef was in Abu Salim. He spent the first 12 years of his sentence however in the White Horse prison (later known as the Black Horse).
“The first three years at the White Horse were ok, until one of the inmates tried to smuggle a poem out. We were then denied all books, radios and other pleasures. We used to cook ourselves; that too was denied.” Once they were moved to Abu Salim, they were denied all visits and Sharef saw no friends or relatives from the outside for almost five years. “We used to be allowed to receive packages of food from our families and monthly visits; that all stopped after we were moved to Abu Salim.”
This interview was recorded
at his home in Benghazi
on 12 April, 2013
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