Human Rights Watch warns of Coronavirus outbreak in Libyan prisons

Human Rights Watch [Photo: Social Media]
As Libyan authorities confirmed three COVID-19 cases in the country as of March 28, 2020, they need to be prepared to limit the spread of the virus in overcrowded detention facilities and shelters for displaced people, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

Libya’s health care system, along with other public services, has been battered by intermittent armed conflicts and political divisions since 2011.

“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,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“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.

One measure authorities should implement is reducing the number of people in detention by releasing people unjustly or arbitrarily detained. People held arbitrarily long-term without charge or trial and migrants and asylum seekers detained solely because of their immigration status should be released. They should also consider releasing children, low-level, and nonviolent offenders, and people who have served most of their term.

Detainees most at risk such as older people, people with disabilities that put them at greater risk of infection, and people with pre-existing conditions should also be given alternatives to detention, Human Rights Watch said.

Authorities should release children and wives of suspected Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters who are held in Al-Jawiyya Prison in Misrata and Mitiga Prison in Tripoli and have not been accused of a crime. In the case of non-Libyans, foreign governments should bring home nationals who remain stranded in Libya in dire conditions.

On March 28, the Justice Ministry of the Government of  National Accord (GNA), one of two competing authorities in Libya, issued a decision to release 466 inmates from prisons in Tripoli controlled by the Justice Ministry, in order to reduce overcrowding. The list is to include pretrial detainees as well as detainees 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, Human Rights Watch said.

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