HRW Warns of Coronavirus Outbreak in Libyan Prisons

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On Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Libya’s authorities of the risk of a Covid-19 in outbreak in prisons, especially after the registration of five new cases in Misrata.

In a statement, HRW called on the authorities to be prepared to limit the spread of the virus in overcrowded detention facilities and shelters for displaced people.

“Detainees most at risk such as older people and people with disabilities that put them at greater risk of infection. People with pre-existing conditions should also be given alternatives to detention,” the HRW added.

It also called on the Libyan authorities to release children and wives of suspected Islamic State fighters who are held in Al-Jawiyya Prison in Misrata and Mitiga Prison in Tripoli, who have not been accused of any crime.

HRW’s Libya researcher, Hanan Saleh, said, “If the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in Libya, the country’s health care system won’t be able to cope with large numbers of patients,” adding, “Libya’s preparations need to include plans to protect and care for everyone, including vulnerable populations like those in custody or displaced person shelters.”

She added that the Libyan authorities should reduce the number of people in detention by releasing people who are unjustly held or arbitrarily detained. She pointed out that there remain people who had been arbitrarily kept in prisons without charges or trials.

The researcher also called on authorities to consider releasing children, low risk and nonviolent offenders, and people who have served most of their term.

On March 28th, the Justice Ministry of the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA), issued a decision to release 466 inmates from prisons in Tripoli to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry has also agreed to release pretrial detainees as well as those who meet the rules for conditional release.

While the release of some detainees in Tripoli would be a positive first step, authorities should do more to mitigate the risks of a major COVID-19 outbreak, HRW has said.

On March 25, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on all governments to “work quickly to reduce the number of people in detention” to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 “rampaging through such … extremely vulnerable populations.”

The UN Support Mission in Libya has called for a “humanitarian pause” in the armed conflict to allow authorities to respond to the pandemic. It urged authorities across Libya “to release all prisoners who are arbitrarily detained, and consider releasing pre-trial prisoners, and in particular, women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees.”