Dheiba Diaf is the widow of Othman Ali Zirti, with whom she had ten children. Zirti was born in 1934 in the area of Tripoli known as Souk Jomaa. He died there in 1984, hanged by the Gaddafi regime for being a member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL).
Zirti’s execution was one of eight carried out during the month of June in different cities across Libya, as far east as Tobruk and as far west as Nalut.
Zirti’s sentence was passed on 25 May and his execution took place on 5 June, the same day that Sadiq Shwehdy was hanged on the other side of the country in Benghazi. None of those who knew could bring themselves to inform the Zirti family of the execution. Ahmad, one of Diaf and Zirti’s children, was staying at his aunt’s home that day. He switched on the tv to see live footage of his father being hanged in the public square surrounded by hoards of jeering men. Ahmad was twelve years old.
“I knew nothing of the execution. I came out to find the house full of people. It was Ramadan and everyone had shocked looks on their faces.” Relatives, friends and neighbours had been coming and going ever since Zirti had handed himself into the authorities on 11 May. Sadeeq, the husband of Zirti’s eldest daughter Badria, had also been arrested two days earlier and spent the next seventeen years imprisoned. The women of the neighbourhood began to cry and revealed that their husbands had witnessed the hanging of Othman Zirti.
Zirti had been informed that his name was on a list found on Ahmad Ihwas, a leader of the opposition movement the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). Ihwas had been killed during the fighting that followed the NFSL’s raid on the Bab al-Azizia compound on 8 May.
Zirti’s instinctive reaction was to hide at his cousin’s house, but by 11 May he decided to hand himself in. He saw his son-in-law Sadeeq during the 26 days he spent being interrogated at Abu Salim prison before his death. While in prison, interrogator Khairy Khaled informed Zirti that his home had been knocked down.
“Seven days after my husband was imprisoned, a tractor knocked down the walls surrounding our home. The next day, we were given one hour’s notice to leave the house as they were going to bulldoze it,” remembers Diaf. The family objected and the members of the revolutionary committee, as Gaddafi’s forces were then known, proceeded to throw everything out of the house and start a campfire. “The next day, bulldozers came and demolished our home.”
Diaf and her ten children moved in with Zirti’s brother Ramadan, his wife, their six children and Badria’s two children whose father Sadeeq was also in prison.
“When we learned that Othman was executed, the authorities prevented us from holding a traditional funeral. We wanted to raise a tent and they prohibited us. On the third day of the funeral at the home of my brother-in-law Ramadan, they came and took him in.”
Her eldest son Anwar was also taken in for questioning and released the same day. Ramadan however spent one and a half years in prison. He had not been involved at all in the opposition work that Othman Zirti and Sadeeq had been entangled in. Diaf and her eldest daughter Badria were not aware of their husbands’ political activities. “I am illiterate. I knew nothing of politics. When they knocked down the house, I thought at first it was related to corruption. They later told me it was because of politics. I knew nothing and suddenly lost my home and husband.”
The revolutionary guards continued to harass the family. “They would walk through our garden, looking through our windows. We lived an abnormal existence. My children had to leave school and work so we could live. If they had taken the house and left us their father, we wouldn’t have cared. But they took their father and their livelihood. They left us with nothing, displaced.”