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Libya footage shows 'human ovens' in Tarhuna allegedly used by Haftar militia

Prisoners in Tarhuna were reportedly placed inside narrow bolted cells with a fire lit above as a means of torture
A still from footage taken by the February television channel of 'human ovens' in Tarhuna, Libya (Screenshot)

Editor's note: This story contains graphic video and images that some users may find disturbing. 

A Libyan satellite channel has broadcast footage of detention cells in Tarhuna, which were described as "human ovens" used by militias allied with renegade military officer General Khalifa Haftar to torture opponents.

The footage aired by a private television channel called February, is the latest grim revelation coming from the western city, which was recaptured by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) from Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) on 5 June.

The pictures released on Wednesday show very narrow cells in which the detainee could only sit in a squatting position, with iron-bolted doors.

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The broadcaster said: "Very narrow cells were used by the Kaniyat terrorist gang of the Haftar militia in Tarhuna, where the prisoner is placed inside and the fire is lit on its upper surface."

A narrator on the footage can be heard saying: "These are all heating elements at the top... Can you believe this? These are prisons. How do you even breathe in here. Look, you can see sleeping mats inside."

Later, someone in the background can be heard saying: "Where are the human rights groups? Where is the world? They need to come down here to Tarhuna and see for themselves."

Mass graves

Militias allied to Haftar have been accused of carrying out atrocities prior to their withdrawal from Tarhuna last month.

Officials told Middle East Eye earlier this week that hundreds of bodies and other human remains had now been recovered since the city fell.

“These cemeteries include hundreds of bodies including women and children. The government believes those victims have been killed by Haftar's militia,” said a GNA official.

“From 5 June to 28 June, we found 208 bodies and remains of another unknown number of victims.”

Photos dating from 10 June seen by MEE showed bodies in shallow sandy graves, some of which appeared to have been buried with their hands tied. 

Other photos showed recovered body parts, including limbs.

Calls for investigation

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has invited the ICC to send a team to Tarhuna to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Haftar's forces.

Human Rights Watch has also called on Haftar to investigate allegations of abuse by his forces, including alleged torture, summary execution and the desecration of the corpses of enemy fighters.

The allegations concern the conduct of the Kaniyat, a Tarhuna-based militia aligned with Haftar and formally incorporated into the LNA as the 9th Brigade, which the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) linked in March to hundreds of reported cases of enforced disappearances, torture and killings in the city.

The local commander of the Kaniyat, Mohsin al-Kani, was killed in an air strike last September.

A body is uncovered at a mass grave site in Tarhuna on 10 June 2020 (MEE)
A body is uncovered at a mass grave site in Tarhuna on 10 June 2020 (MEE)

GNA-aligned militia forces have also been accused of looting, arson and extrajudicial killings in Tarhuna and other areas recaptured last month from the LNA.

Tarhuna was the launch pad for the eastern-based Haftar's assault on Tripoli in early 2019.

Haftar is backed by countries including Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, but his troops have suffered a series of reverses since Turkey sent forces to support the GNA in November and have mostly fallen back to the central city of Sirte.