Maayouf Massoud Halasa is from the town of Kabaw in the Nafusa Mountains in the west of Libya. He was a graduate of law and an educationist in social studies when he was arrested on 11 May 1984. The arrest followed clashes between regime forces and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) at the Bab al-Azizia compound. Halasa’s name was found on a list held by NFSL member Mohamad Sheibani who, along with Othman Zirti and six others, was executed in June in relation to the unsuccessful raid that aimed to topple Gaddafi’s regime.
“They didn’t just arrest people whose names were on lists. They made many random arrests in the Nafusa Mountains in particular. From a population of 12,000 people in Kabaw, 1,000 were arrested.”
Halasa knew in advance that they would be going to his home to arrest him. “I had hidden some important books related to the culture and history of the Nafusa Mountains and Amazigh people. We had been collecting them as an important documentation of our heritage. I knew that when they arrested me they would search my home, and I didn’t want to lose these books.”
When the authorities arrested Halasa at his home, they took his entire library. His prized books were safe, until his father burned them. “While I was in prison, my father feared that the books would be found and used against me and lead to my execution.” Halasa had been accused of incitement.
Most of the three years Halasa spent imprisoned, he was based in Abu Salim. “I saw the sun no more than ten times during my time there and received no visitors. We used mirrors and code and papers under doors to communicate with other inmates.”
Life for his family was not easy either. “I have six daughters and three sons. They were practically persecuted. They would be insulted and told their father was a traitor. They would be called stray dogs and told their father would be killed. As a result they left school during my imprisonment and some of them were unable to later complete their education. That really affected me.”
Of the hundreds of men from the Nafusa Mountains who had been arrested, Halasa was one of eleven who remained imprisoned. “Men arrested in relation to the Bab al-Azizia events were being hanged live on tv during Ramadan. It was an awful time.” The family thought he would never be released.
“There was no way out of it. I could console myself at first knowing I was one of hundreds or thousands being brought in, but then they were focusing on people who were socially active, as I was, and only eleven of us remained. They seemed to focus on us and question everyone they brought in about their relationship to us. There was no real accusation. They would list ten or eleven. Muslim Brotherhood. Tahrir. Amazighi. A collage of accusations.”
Three years later, the courts informed him that he was found innocent and could return home. “When I asked what I was innocent of, they told me I should consider myself lucky not to have had the same fate as those killed.”
Halasa’s salary was stopped while he was in prison and so times were financially hard on the large family. They were still difficult after he was released. “At times I wished I was back in prison. We were constantly watched, brought in for questioning every six weeks, called terrible names. I was a socially active person and it was difficult to feel so confined and lose all those years, between 1987 and 2011. To not be able to do anything for my society was such a tragedy.”