On a Random Check, My Mobile Phone Outed Me: A Story on Homophobia in Libya

Sunday 21 July 201905:37 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"عاد الشيخ ليُطلعني على محادثات بيني وبين حبيبي السابق... وبدأت حفلة التعذيب والشتائم"

My name is Ahmed Amar or at least that is what I call myself now. after leaving my country. I left Libya to Tunis some 18 months ago after I was incarcerated and tortured by a Libyan militia known as RADA, the Special Deterrence Forces that ought to be called the Special Horror Forces and how could they not be a horror. Here is my story which started when they discovered a conversation on my phone with the title “We Are All Haftar” and other conversations that confirm I am gay.

It was winter and I was driving my car when an old friend called me, we had lost touch for some time, but when he told me that he was intent on traveling and asked to see me one last time so I headed out to meet him.

I headed to his home in the Salah Al-Din area and from there we went to Duhmani Avenue to eat in Al Diyafa restaurant, afterwards we sat in my parked car park and put some music on, then came a white Toyota to park next to us and two armed men in civilian clothing came towards us.

One of them glanced at my phone and commented about my choice of music with disgust, he had introduced himself as the "Effendi" or the leader and then asked me to get out of the car to search it, insistent that I hand over my phone, and because he held a weapon, I obeyed. The first thing he found on my phone was a group chat with the title "We Are All Haftar" which conversation one of my friends from Benghazi had started as a joke.

I struggled to explain to him that it was irony but he turned deaf ears to my words "oh so you've come to love Haftar, well let's take you to RADA. He took out his walkie-talkie and informed the people at RADA headquarters about us, and here my fear began to mount. I begged him to let me go repeating that this was just a misunderstanding but he wouldn't listen and actually became more violent. He dragged me back to my car and sat beside me and asked me to follow the security car which my friend had been forced in.

That's when I realized that my phone held conversations between me and my gay friends and photos of me with people I had dated. I was petrified and began to plead with "Effendi" again, trying to compassion as a way forward. I didn't mention those conversations of course but said that my family is conservative and wouldn't accept the contents of my phone and then I attempted to bribe him with money to get back my phone for a while.

It seemed like he was tempted by the offer as he consented to hand my phone over but on condition that I also take my friend's phone and delete anything that may cause problems for him if found. Maybe it was a plot on his part to also implicate my friend. So I got out of my car and tried to talk to my friend but he refused completely to cooperate with them so Effendi gave me a heavy blow to the back of the neck and dragged me to the car again.

Time stood still, it was the longest trip of my life and the road stretched forever.

They told me to consider myself dead, I tried to find a way out but there wasn't any, I wished I wasn't different, that I hadn't been born this way - a homosexual.
The Sheikh ordered me to walk inside the room, I couldn't move but he kept yelling at me threateningly, I gave up after two steps and fell to my knees, he began to beat me on my back and buttocks until I passed out.

We reached the headquarters of the SDF which was beside Tripoli airport. We parked the car and he led me inside. I didn't realize that the headquarters were so vast and full of dark rooms, we were standing in the corridor when our phones were being searched.

A bearded man entered called Sheikh Abd El Rahman. I will never forget his looks, the Sheikh held our phones in his hand when he took me to a dark and frightening room that stunk of urine.

He locked me. I was terrified of what would happen next. Hours passed then the Sheikh returned holding my phone and told me about a conversation I had with my ex-boyfriend in which I had said "I miss you, I want to see you, I love you", He considered these words obscene and they made me a criminal in his eyes, I denied everything he showed me as if it were a terrible crime.

He didn't believe me and in his other hand, he held a black stick that he began to beat me with. I would run and he would hit me on the head and say "How many times did they do it to you" and I would respond "not even once" then he would repeat "how many times did they do it to you" and I would repeat "not even once".

I felt great pain and I tried to protect my face with my hands until they were bloodied, I was repeating " I repent, I repent" but he continued to beat me on my back and the back of my head.

He beat me until I lost consciousness.

When I woke up, the man who called himself a Sheikh reappeared, he returned with his stick and one of his men called Aboud who told me "come here I have a present for you" my friend came along with them, I had no idea what had happened to him until that moment, he looked unscathed, unlike me and I felt a surge of happiness, thinking that they would leave him to go his way.

That wasn't what they had in mind, they tied my friend upside down against a window and began beating him. It was the first time I had ever seen someone being tortured.

After they were done torturing my friend they turned to me and the Sheikh began to hit me on the face with his military boots, forcing me to count the blows of the stick until I reached 102 and that was all I could count before I lost consciousness again.

I woke again at dawn, I don't know for how long I had been out, but another man came into the cell holding my phone, my mother was calling me , her contact name was "my life" he began to scream "it's one of your whores" I told him it was my mother, it was my mother violently crying and demanding "where is my son?"

Later they took me out to the corridor and I saw my friend with his father, one of the men was telling my friend's father "don't let your friend befriend such people" and till now I don't understand how my friend could stand before me like that and ignore me completely.

They took me to another room and gave me some water, they bought me some food that I could not eat because my face and mouth were so swollen. I'm sorry because some events and details escape me and are lost in my memory and I can't recall them easily.

They told me to consider myself dead, I tried to find a way out but there wasn't any, I wished I wasn't different, that I hadn't been born this way - a homosexual- I was afraid of the scandal and my family's reaction, I didn't know what was going to happen to me and what I was going to do.

When I woke the next day, the Sheikh resumed his favorite hobby and began to beat my face with his shoe, the marks remain to this day and they broke my finger which I can't move to this day.

The Sheikh ordered me to walk inside the room, I couldn't move but he kept yelling at me threateningly, I gave up after two steps and fell to my knees, he began to beat me on my back and buttocks until I passed out.

I slept deeply as if all my senses had stopped working, a man shook me awake before he gave me some food, I couldn't eat but he forced me, I ate and wept and then fell asleep again.

On the same night, three men I had never seen before came in, one of them began to kick me with his rifle yelling "You mule! You Bouffe!" (Boufte is a Libyan slur meaning gay) "There's so many of you Bouftes, your numbers are growing" this while his friends were in gales of laughter, enjoying every moment of the show.

At dawn the next day one of them came in to tell me that I would leave now as my father was waiting for me outside

I was elated to be leaving that hell but also a little afraid of my father’s reaction "but before you leave, you will honor us somewhere else" my happiness dissipated and I didn't know what was going to happen to me, he took me to another room where there were eight men who began to beat, insult and harass me.

"Boufte! Boufte!" they forced me to my knees in a filthy then they then took me out to my father who was shocked by my appearance and could barely recognize me, I burst into tears and he took me away to the car and that day began the journey that would change my relationship with my father.

We talked about the charges against me, and I didn't realize that they hadn't told him anything about what they had discovered about my nature and my leanings, when we reached the 11 June district, I mentioned the matter, my father stopped the car in shock, he turned to me and spat in my face and said "You have shamed me, I had a feeling you were like that you Boufte, I will take you back to El Rad and they'll kill you before me."

He turned the car to go back to the headquarters, I didn't quite understand what he was saying all I could hear was an annoying ringing in my ears which separated me from reality, with all the force I had in me, I opened the door of the moving car and jumped out and I ran and I kept running with my Dad calling after me "Ahmed! Ahmed!" until I found a place to hide.

I was alone and hungry and I could barely move, one of the residents in the area took me to a friend who took care of my health until healed completely.

I don't know at what point exactly i decided not to regret anything that i did or be ashanmed of being homosexual and that i would resist both for myself and for others.

Ritaj Ibrahim wrote this piece based on an interview with Ahmed Ammar (an alias)

* RADA also known as the special deterrent forces have a strong presence and operates in Tripoli specifically in areas such as the Friday market, downtown. Al Duhmani, Al Zahra, Ben Ashour, and the Tuesday market. It is the security arm of the Ministry of the Interior of the Government of National Accord. It has been accused multiple times of human rights abuses. It is renown for a large number of its affiliates and their fundamentalism and for detaining many atheists and homosexuals, they have a strong intelligence unit which they used against ISIS in Tripoli but despite that, they practice legalized terrorism against minorities and works against the freedom of religion, gender identities, and sexuality.

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