Libya arrests two Berbers for spying

TRIPOLI — Two members of Libya’s Amazigh Berber minority have been arrested for espionage, the country’s security service said on Tuesday, responding to claims by Amnesty International. Twin brothers Mazigh and Maghris Bouzahar, accused of “spying for a foreign intelligence agency” have been arrested and are being investigated by the state prosecutor, Libya’s intelligence agency said on its website. On Thursday, Amnesty urged Tripoli to “immediately clarify the whereabouts and legal status of four men — two Libyan and two Moroccan nationals — held in Libya seemingly in connection with Amazigh cultural or academic activities.”

The London-based rights watchdog “expressed concerns that the four men might be held solely on account of their… Amazigh language and culture, in which case they would be prisoners of conscience.” Amnesty said that the Bouzahar brothers were arrested on December 16 at their Tripoli home by intelligence officers who later “confiscated a number of items, including all books related to Amazigh culture and a computer.” It identified the Moroccans as researchers from The Royal Institute of Berber Culture — Al Mahfouz Asmari and Hassan Ramou — and said their families lost contact with them on December 19, after they had travelled to Libya from Tunisia.

Libya’s security services rejected Amnesty’s “allegations” and confirmed that the two Moroccans were freed “out of respect to Moroccan officials”. The Libyan security service said it was “well aware that foreign intelligence agencies use research — be it academic, historic, archaeological or cultural — as cover for their activities.” In June, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi repeated denials that the Amazigh Berber minority resides in his country, stating that these tribes “disappeared and no longer exist.” Amazigh — which means “free men” in the Berber language — represent 10 percent of Libya’s population and have been demanding recognition ever since Kadhafi seized power in 1969.

AFP

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