TRIPOLI, Libya -- The fight for identity, culture and language by Libya’s indigenous Amazigh people remains elusive and a pipe dream even after years of protest by activists in a bid to convince the Libyan president Muammer Gaddafi to recognize the identity of these people.
|Photo: Amazigh granary store in Libya. Credit: Shadrack Kavilu.
By Shadrack Kavilu for Gáldu
The Amazigh, pejoratively known as "Berbers", indigenous people are Libya’s non Arab speaking people who represent about 10 percent of the country’s population and who have been denied the right to observe their culture and tradition by the Libyan government.
For decades the Libyan president has continued to deny existence of these indigenous minority people, last year the president repeated denials that Amazigh indigenous people resides in his country, stating that these tribes “disappeared and no longer exist.”
Muammar Gaddafi has on several occasions maintained that Amazigh are originally pure Arabs, but the Amazigh have openly declared their wish to protect their Amazigh Identity, culture and traditions, a stance that has always put them on collision course with the authorities.
On numerous occasions, the government has been reportedly accused of arresting and intimidating people of Amazigh origin from publicly expressing their culture and tradition, a move that has been widely condemned by international human rights groups.
Despite the government’s continued denial of the existence of this tribe, the Amazigh community has continued lobbying the government to protect, recognize their identity and abolish discriminatory laws that prevent them from naming their children with Amazigh cultural names.
Though the Amazigh claim to have occupied the mountains and deserts of North Africa long before the Arabs arrived, the Gaddafi regime has embarked on Arabisation programme that seeks to make the whole of the country an Arab speaking nation.
To ensure the ‘Arabisation’ programme becomes a success, the Libyan government has continued to deny the Amazigh people their rights to expression, liberty and identity through intimidation, coercion and arbitrary arrest of those who publicly promote Amazigh culture and language.
Unlike the Amazigh of Morocco and Algeria who enjoy a limited freedom, their counterparts in Libya are worse off. The government of Gaddafi exercises tight control over all minorities, especially Amazighs.
Over the years vocal members of the community who have been in the frontline advocating for the rights of this tribe have been arrested, detained on trumped up charges while others are said to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Recently a popular Amazigh singer, Abdulla Ashini who is in detention for five years for ‘illegal migration’ is reportedly said to be in an indefinite hunger strike in his prison cell for charges he has denied committing.
According to reports published by an Independent international organization that advocates for freedom of expression for musicians and composers (Freemuse), the singer was sentenced to five years for participating in a festival of Amazigh culture at Las Palmas, the Canary Islands two years ago, but upon returning home the Libyan authorities withdrew his passport thus preventing him from travelling to other festivals to promote the Amazigh culture.
The reports also indicates that the singer was banned from recording albums in Libya because he sings in the Amazigh language which the government doesn’t recognize, and which it intends to face out completely.
Ashini’s tribulations are one of the many cases the Amazigh community has had to endure in their fight for recognisition and protection. Recently two Amazigh activist brothers of the ARSAG Amazigh movement were kidnapped by unknown people and later charged for espionage.
The brothers, Mazigh and Maghris Bouzahar are accused of "spying for a foreign intelligence agency” and are being investigated by the state prosecutor.
The confirmation of the arrest of these brothers by the Libya government came after intense pressure from Amnesty International which raised concerns about the whereabouts of these brothers after they were reported missing.
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."
Cases of kidnapping, arrest and murder of Amazigh activists are not new in Libya. In 1998 a legendary Amazigh singer and activist, Lounes Matoub was assassinated and his death remains a mystery 13 years down the lane.
Although Libya’s discrimination and violation of Amazigh rights has been highlighted in various reports presented to international human rights institutions, the authoritarian and repressive anti Amazigh government has not made any meaningful efforts to address these issues.
According to a report prepared by a group of Amazigh community and submitted to the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), United Nations Economic and Social Council - International Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Gaddafi administration has continued un abated to mistreat this tribe.
The report highlights major forms of discrimination such as the official and constitutional exclusion of this tribe and programmed Arabisation and assimilation that amounts to the violation of the international convention for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.
Other reports on the treatment of Amazigh in Libya note that there are frequent allegations of discrimination based on ethnic status, particularly against Amazigh in the interior and Tuaregs in the south of the oil-rich desert country.
Recent country reports on Libya state that the government discriminates against and represses certain minorities and tribal groups and exercises tight control over ethnic and tribal minorities, such as Amazighs,Tuaregs, and Warfalla tribe members.
from : http://www.galdu.org/web/?odas=5125&giella1=eng