The Abu Saleem prison massacre, which occurred on June 29, 1996, is considered one of the biggest violations of Muammar Al-Gaddafi regime in Libya and the largest mass killing operation, as it claimed the lives of about 1269 detainees, most of them prisoners of conscience.
On June 29, 1996, special forces raided Abu Salim prison, located on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, and fired at the prisoners, claiming their rebellion in the prison, which is the most fortified and guarded prison in Libya. Then, those forces buried the bodies in the prison courtyard and in mass graves scattered around Tripoli, and tried to conceal the crime by not telling the families of their fate.
For years, the families of the victims and human rights organizations had been calling for revealing the fate of the prisoners after any form of contact with them was lost, for the regime had been inviting the families of the dead from different regions of Libya to come to visit their sons, just to cancel the visits after their arrival and let the families wait for them in front of the prison for long hours with false pretexts.
The regime of Muammar Al-Gaddafi remained silent about the crime, denying its occurrence and preventing any talk about it, until 2009, when it began informing the families of the death of their sons.
During 2009 – 2010, the families of the victims and the missing escalated their protests and vigils demanding information about the fate of all detainees, and to reveal the cause of death through autopsies, and to launch an investigation to identify those responsible.
The case of defending the people in the Abu Saleem prison massacre was assumed by a Libyan lawyer called Fathi Terbel, who lost one of his brothers, a cousin and brother-in-law in the massacre. In statement Terbel said; ‘The detainees rebelled to press for better conditions, fair trail and the right to be visited by their families’. “This brutal and repressive regime carried out the massacre in two or three hours and tried to obliterate the crime.” Terbel added.
However, the Libyan authorities arrested him on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 on the eve of the start of the Libyan protests on February 17, which broke bout to overthrow the Libyan regime. The arrest of Terbel was the flame that ignited the revolution. Indeed, Abu Saleem prison was considered one of the main causes that triggered the Libyan revolution mid-February 2011.