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Murder of human rights activist Hanan al-Barassi: An attack on Libya

The lawyer Hanan al-Barassi fought for democracy and human rights in Libya. The murder of her endangers the peace negotiations in the civil war country.

She called herself “Mother of Libya”. And many of her followers saw exactly that in her. Hanan al-Barassi, 46 years old, a lawyer from Benghazi, in eastern Libya, stood up for human rights in her homeland like hardly any other activist. She did not shy away from taking on the powerful in the state, the officers of the Libyan National Army, the ruler of Benghazi and the east of the country, warlord Khalifa Haftar, and his followers. In the end, al-Barassi paid for their fearlessness probably with her life.

Hanan al-Barrasi was shopping in Benghazi last Tuesday with her daughter. She was parking her car in front of a supermarket when three SUVs with partially darkened windows stopped in front of her. Hooded men stepped up to the driver’s door and opened fire without a word. This is how eyewitnesses described it to the SPIEGEL. Al-Barrasi was immediately dead. The men left the crime scene calmly, said a shopkeeper on the phone who was watching the crime. Passers-by remained in shock, nobody said a word, “Only death can silence me”. The murder of the lawyer caused consternation and anger in Libya. “Al-Barassi has done nothing but express her opinion freely,” says Wael Alushaibi, who works as an advisor to the Libyan parliament. “I am shocked.” Al-Barassi’s death illustrates the dangers faced by women in Libya if they dare to speak freely, explains the United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

Observers are assuming that it was a political assassination and call on the Libyan authorities to investigate the case. “This brazen killing shows once again how important it is to establish a government that is accountable to the people of Libya rather than tolerate corruption and brutal violence,” says a statement from the U.S. embassy in Libya.

Al-Barassi had renewed her criticism of Haftar’s LNA in a Facebook video just one day before her death. At the same time, she stressed that she would not be intimidated under any circumstances. “I won’t bend,” she said. “If I die. Only through death can I be silenced.”

Libya has been in civil war almost continuously since the fall of dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. The country is in fact divided into two parts. In the west, in the capital Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj rules, who is also recognised by the UN. The east around Benghazi is controlled by General Haftar. He is supported by Russia and France, among others.

Haftar presents himself as a strong man who defends the country against jihadists. The murder of al-Barassi, however, demonstrates the extent to which terror and violence dominate his domain. A year and a half ago, Member of Parliament Siham Sergiva was kidnapped after criticising Haftar’s offensive in Tripoli. “The army is the red line” was written by unknown persons on the wall of her house. To this day, no trace of Sergiva remains.

In October, the Sarraj and Haftar camps agreed on a ceasefire. At present, representatives of Libyan politics, the military and civil society are negotiating in Tunis under the leadership of UNSMIL on the future of the country. They are dealing with issues that were already discussed at the Berlin Conference in January, at that time on Germany’s initiative: new elections, a constitutional reform, a joint government.

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