Libyan animal rights defenders freed after detention over 'witchcraft' accusations
Two Libyan animal rights defenders have been released in Benghazi after 6 days of detention and weeks of witchcraft accusations by government officials, in the wake of the UN’s damning report on the state of gendered violence in Libya.
Ibtisam and Rabia Bin Omran, two sisters who run an animal shelter in Benghazi, were arrested in late March after being accused of ‘carrying out suspicious activities’.
Their arrest was filmed and published in an inflammatory video by the deputy minister of interior in Libya’s eastern government, supposedly taken during the raid and insinuating that the sisters were involved in witchcraft, leading to a campaign of online hate.
During their detention, the two women were denied contact with their family or legal representatives, according to rights groups.
“They were first attacked on the 11 of March by a mob who wanted to take over their land,” the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace told The New Arab.
We welcome the release of the sisters Ibtisam and Rabia Bin Omran who we’re running an animal shelter and were arrested without official charges amid government online smear campaign against them accusing them of witchcraft. We thank everyone who showed solidarity with them. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/SEsnqLzxLA— Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (@LWPP_Org) April 4, 2023
The assailants “threatened the two sisters and told them that they have strong connections with [the interior ministry], the municipal guard and a judge.”
Rights groups believe that the two sisters were targeted both for their land and because they were aware of animal rights abuses that were occurring in the region.
“They had evidence against some well connected people that they were implicated in corruption - killing dogs and selling them as meat,” said the LWPP.
“Accusations of witchcraft are very common in Libya in the last few years, especially with the rise of Salafism in security authorities.”
Last week sisters Ibtisam and Rabia Bin Omran were arrested and detained without charge by authorities in Benghazi. It is yet another shocking example of gender-based violence and impunity in Libya https://t.co/1H5iTZvNQx— Karama (@el_karama) April 2, 2023
Such accusations have been routinely documented by women’s rights activists and passed to the UN fact-finding mission which recently passed its findings to the Human Rights Council.
The UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya documented systemic conflict-related sexual violence in their period of investigation from 2016 to 2020.
These include forcible disappearance of women, arbitrary arrest coupled with sexual violence and gender based violence and even instances of forced and early marriage.
Ibtisam and Rabia bin Omran have been remanded on bail until October, under the official accusation that their sanctuary "did not meet sanitation standards".