Benghazi, 1 August:
A local militia group has claimed responsibility for seizing seven members of an Iranian Red Crescent delegation in Benghazi . . .[restrict]early yesterday morning.
They claimed they had detained the group to interrogate them to ascertain their reasons for visiting Libya, in particular, to see if they were Shiites and were planning to proselytise for Shiism.
“Members of the brigade holding the Iranians are questioning them to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam,” an official in touch with the kidnappers was quoted as saying. He did not name the group but indicated they were Islamic extremists.
The seven were in good health, were being well treated and would be released as soon as the interrogations were finished, he said.
In June, the Grand Mufti of Libya Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani claimed that Iranian Shiites were proselytising in Libya.
Yesterday, the Libyan Red Crescent said that it had invited to group to the country to discuss “various cooperation prospects in the field of humanitarian aid”. They arrived in Libya on Monday and were seized while on their way back from the Red Crescent headquarters in Benghazi to the Tibesti hotel where they were staying.
It called for the seven to be released.
Amnesty International today added its voice to appeals to free them. “The seven Iranian Red Crescent members must be allowed to go free,” its Middle East and North Africa deputy director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.
She added: “Their plight highlights the urgent need for the Libyan authorities to rein in armed militias who are operating out of control.”
Meanwhile in Tehran, the Iranian Red Crescent called on the Libyan authorities to act against those responsible and ensure the seven’s freedom. It said the group had been invited to Libya by the Libyan Red Crescent to develop cooperation and that a cooperation agreement had been signed just before the kidnapping.
It also called on the Libyan Red Crescent Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate the matter.
Illegal detentions by militias are all too common in Libya given the absence of a functioning judiciary and strong police force. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are about 5,000 detainees held by militias. Human rights organisations such as itself and Amnesty International have issued several demands that the government to take action to end the situation.
Two days ago, the authorities responded. Members of the Supreme Security Committee (SSC) freed people illegally detained in Tripoli and arrested the militiamen holding them.