A prominent and outspoken lawyer in Benghazi fell victim to an apparent politically motivated killing in the Libyan city on November 10, Human Rights Watch confirmed.
Hanan Al-Barassi had been a vocal critic of eastern Libya’s armed groups, using social media to discuss corruption and criminal activity by these organizations. She regularly directed accusations of assault, rape, and general abuse of women toward the militant groups which occupy the region.
Barassi sustained three bullet wounds in the incident, during which armed assailants initially attempted to kidnap her, the Benghazi Security Directorate said in a statement. Evidently, the kidnapping went south, prompting Barassi’s assailants to kill her instead before fleeing in unmarked vehicles. The Directorate has promised an investigation.
Prior to her death, Barassi stated that she had received death threats and that her daughter had survived an assassination attempt. She further posted the names and information of those who had threatened her.
Eastern Libya is under the control of the warlord Khalifa Haftar, for whom Barassi had expressed support. Haftar, who enjoys the support of Russia and Egypt, holds the eastern half of Libya in open rebellion against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli.
The Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), which Haftar commands, besieged Tripoli until this year and appeared poised to seize control of the whole country until Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent troops to back the GNA and effectively broke the siege, pushing the LNA back to the east.
The United Nations (U.N.) is currently holding peace talks in neighboring Tunis with the aim of establishing a unified, transitional government for Libya.
One day prior to her death, Barassi criticized the “family rule” which characterizes the Haftar regime, attacking the alleged corruption of Haftar’s family members. She further announced her plans to release information that would implicate them in specific instances of corruption, fraud, and abuse of power.
Her death is likely to rattle human rights activists in the area, said Hanan Salah of Human Rights Watch: “The killing of an outspoken lawyer in broad daylight in Benghazi will send chills through activists across the region.”
“This brutal killing smacks of a cold-blooded execution. The only way to end this cycle of violence is if authorities hold criminals to account for these terrible acts,” he said.
Libya has been in a state of near-continuous civil war since the ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring.