Inmates were forced to bark and fight each other like dogs

Qarnada Prison

Qarnada is a village in eastern Libya, about 250 kilometres northeast of Benghazi. It is linked to the country’s most notorious prison run by a mix of militia groups. 

Under the direct command of warlord Khalifa Haftar and his sons, hundreds of opponents to the military and political ambitions of Haftar face physical, psychological and sexual torture in Qarnada Prison with no right to a fair trial.

In the prison, time goes very slowly. A day passes like a month, and a month passes like a year. It’s a real inferno on Earth, according to survivors. 

A recently released inmate recounted the atrocities he had and how he was imprisoned for years without a trial. Investigators accused him of belonging to “terror groups”, a pretext usually used by Haftar to oppress his opponents. Although he denied the charges and no evidence was found against him, the investigators maintained their claim and denied him the right to have a lawyer.

He agreed to speak to The Libya Observer on the condition of anonymity, but we will use “Mohamed” as a pen name. 

In Qarnada Prison, a newly arrived inmate will be welcomed by a special “reception party”. 

“As I arrived, they ordered me to walk through two lines of guards beating me with batons, whips and PPR pipes. I was beaten for about an hour. Then they asked me to stand by the wall and took off my clothes and started searching me. After that, they took me to a tiny cell which is only 2 meters in size where I found three inmates who had been locked in for around a year without any charges or investigations.”

“They only come to the cell to torture us”, one of the three inmates frightened me, Mohamed recounts. 

In the next morning, a black man popped up. Calling him “Bashir”, he was one of the African migrants employed by prison leaders to oversee and torture the inmates. Bashir, who speaks a broken Arabic, came to our cell and took us to the bathroom. According to prison rules, every inmate has the right to use the bathroom once a day and only has 10 seconds in private. After that, Bashir will open the door and drag you out forcibly in whatever state you are in. 

According to Mohamed, prison rules also include no face wash. If nature calls after 10 seconds, one has to use napkins to clean! The breakfast includes a piece of bread and a slice of cheese.

“After mid-day, I started hearing screaming voices. Then a guard came and shouted at us “Where is the new inmate”? I was beaten repeatedly by every shift of guards as it was the custom to beat new inmates. While beating me, the guards brag: “We want to give you your right. We want you to get accustomed to us.” 

After a week, Mohamed’s family realized that he was in Qarnada, and after several mediation efforts, a guard came and took him out of the cell and put him in a 5-meter room occupied by 30 inmates from Derna and Benghazi. The room’s condition was unhealthy. It has a bathroom with no roof and an intermittent water supply.

In the room, the inmates have to wake up at 8 and sit in a military position until lunch. Then after lunch, they re-sit in the same position until dark. 

The guards were having fun torturing the inmates; they had nothing to do but watch the inmates carefully to detect anyone changing his sitting position or chatting with his fellow inmates. If one was caught, he would be beaten. It was a harsh daily routine.

In 2018, warlord Haftar’s armed groups attacked Derna with the help of Egypt on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Fighting continued for several weeks and hundreds of locals surrendered to Haftar’s armed groups after promises by tribal leaders of neighbouring cities not to harm anyone who turned himself in voluntarily. But those promises were false and Derna locals were taken to Qarnada Prison to face their fate.

During the invasion of Derna, prison guards were chanting “Allah Akbir” while beating the inmates. Every day there were new inmates arriving from Derna, some turned themselves in, Mohamed says.

According to those who surrendered, Haftar promised to treat them well and grant them a fair trial, but in fact, he sold them down the river, he adds. 

As the prison got overcrowded, new cells and rooms were constructed and the inmates were forced to work hard in the construction. 

After completion, several inmates were taken to the newly constructed rooms, each has 73 occupiers. While guards are patrolling the rooms, an eerie silence hangs over the place. Any rising voice or whisper means torture. 

Mohamed disclosed that every shift of guards has their own torture techniques. One of them is stripping an inmate off his clothes and beating him with plastic PPR pipes and copper cables causing severe injuries to the body. 

Another technique is laying the inmate on his stomach and stepping on his head with the military shoe until bleeding.

To add insult to injury, one of the prison commanders invented a humiliating technique. He brought a group of inmates and gave them dog names. He ordered every inmate to bark when he called out his dog name.

Liza and Max were among the names he gave to the inmates. One time he called out Liza and Max and ordered them to bark and fight each other like dogs. Other inmates were forced to lick the saliva he spat on the floor.  

Another inmate was forced to grab a burning spoon until it stuck to his hand while screaming in pain.

Mohamed revealed that some prison guards were African migrants employed and trained to torture the inmates. One of them is nicknamed “The Grim Reaper” who used to enter the room looking for a victim. 

On one cold night in December, a guard came to the rooms and ordered the inmates to go out to the square. We were stripped off and sat for hours under the rain, Mohamed cries. 

Rights groups are not allowed to visit the inferno of Qarnada. According to Victims Organization for Human Rights, some inmates were raped while the bodies of other victims were found with signs of torture in an area outside the prison. 

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