Italy: Three men accused of torturing migrants in Libyan detention centre arrested

Three men who are accused of raping and torturing migrants in a Libyan detention centre have been arrested by Italian police. A Guinean man and two Egyptian men were taken into custody in Sicily, after they were recognised by other migrants in a registration centre in Messina, Italy. 

Asylum seekers identified the men as their captors and torturers in the notorious Zawiya detention centre in Libya. According to witnesses, an abandoned container was used to keep migrants prisoners, while trying to exhort ransoms. The detainees would have to pay around EUR 6,500 for their release.

“They gave us a phone to contact our relatives so we could instruct them how to pay for our release,” one asylum seeker told the authorities. “During my imprisonment, I saw two migrants shot dead because they tried to escape.”

The victims were only given hard bread to eat and seawater to drink. They also reported that all women who were with them were “systematically and repeatedly raped.”  

Most of the victims had been held in Libyan detention camps, known for violence and torture since July 2018 and had recently arrived in Sicily. 

The three alleged criminals had recently crossed the Mediterranean disguised as migrants and arrived in Sicily to seek asylum.

Italian police said that witnesses testified they had been “beaten with sticks, rifle butts, rubber pipes, whipped or given electric shocks”, and had seen other prisoners die. They had also been refused water or medical attention for their wounds or for diseases contracted in the detention centre.

Witnesses identified the head of the Zawiya detention centre as a Libyan man named Ossama. “He [Ossama] always carries two guns with him and, together with his affiliates, gang-raped numerous women,” one of the victims said. “The electric shocks made you fall to the ground unconscious”, another migrant testified, saying that he had “personally witnessed many murders by electric shock.”

“This investigation confirms the inhumane living conditions within the Libyan detention centres, and the need to act at international level for the protection of human rights and for the repression of these crimes against humanity,” said the chief prosecutor in a press release.

More than 5,000 people are currently stranded in detention centres in Libya as of July, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

TMP 26/09/2019

Photo caption: Woman held in Abu Salim Detention Centre, Libya

Photo credit: Robert Y. Pelton/