last edits November 25
As Libya's new government was named by the NTC on November 22, I take special brief interest in a minor post given to a major but mysterious figure in the uprising that started it all. Lawyer and "activist" Fathi Tarbel was named minister of youth and sport. As Hurriyet Daily News explained, he's the man "whose brief arrest on Feb. 15 was the spark that lit the popular uprising against Gadhafi’s regime in the eastern city of Benghazi."
He was before now an NTC member in charge of the youth, and now he's being put in charge of sports too. He apparently knows how to get a game started. I really know little of the man, aside from two vague versions I've heard.
Terbil the Persecuted Human Rights Hero
The mainstream and rebel narrative is that he's a crusading "Human Rights" lawyer for families of the Abu Salim prison massacre of 1996 which ... actually may not have even happened, despite the over-eagerness to claim they had found physical proof of it. But some family members said they had missing people lost in the prison system, who they think died there. It wound up totaling about 1,270 implied victims, and they had a lawsuit and this lawyer.
Andy Worthington writes on "How the Abu Salim Prison Massacre in 1996 Inspired the Revolution in Libya," describing Terbil as a dedicated campaigner for justice who endured repeated arrests and even torture. He was offered an obscure human rights prize, but took a while to collect it (if he ever did), and Terbil was listed by Time magazine as among "Time’s 100 Most Influential People" for 2011. Their write-up suggested he was arrested not for any uprising-related activity, but for his counsel work, ongoing already for years:
lawyer Fathi Terbil, 39, showed extraordinary courage just by agreeing to represent the families of those killed. Sure enough, he was arrested in February. Then a group of lawyers and judges gathered in front of Benghazi’s main courthouse to protest. The victims’ families joined them, and the demonstration grew into a full-blown rebellion that has liberated eastern Libya from Gaddafi’s grasp and may yet topple him from Tripoli.
On or before February 15, however, he might also called for a general uprising, or urged support for one. One had been set for two days hence, imagined for years, planned for months, and openly called for already for weeks. The planning to turn the uprising military and make it international were also apparently well-laid, and Libya faced an immense threat that the government might have been faintly aware of.
The UK Guardian reported that Terbil "was arrested over a lawsuit against the government on behalf of the relatives of 1,200 men killed by Gaddafi's forces at Abu Salim prison in 1996."
And Fathi Terbil was arrested on the afternoon of February 15. Understandably, Libyans who had been just fine were suddenly enraged against the machine at this draconian arrest, and took to the streets to demand his release. Apparently the authorities refused the demands, and started killing people left and right, and so the people had to take over and thus began the spontaneous peoples' revolt.
Some acknowledge this silenced political prisoner was eventually released, and even as Hurriyet acknowledged, held only "briefly." "The overnight unrest followed the arrest of an outspoken government critic, who was reportedly freed later," said the BBC on the morning of February 16. He was in less than 24 hours.
R.Breki Goheda's 2011 documentary Libyan Crisis: Events, Causes, and Facts, gives more details. I haven't as yet found any other supports for it, but the video has a good track record of claims that do pan out. The segment of Terbil is early on, part one, 3:42, explains in more detail than usual how he got arrested and released and how that effected the protests/insurgency:
Security apparatus in Benghazi arrested Fathi Terbil, the coordinator of the association of the victim of Abu Salim [prison massacre of] 1996, after he incited people in Tripoli to head for Abu Salim prison, under the pretext that the prison was burning, and instigated them to storm the prison, so as to free prisoners.
Some members of the association being led by Terbil mediated for his release, and he was released on the same day with the guarantee of the mediators after he confessed of making up the call contrary to realty. However, members of the association gathered in front of the police station , and staged demonstrations immediately following the release of Terbil, and marched for 10 kilometers ...And so on until we get to where we are now. By this, he recanted his charge the prison was burning, and it can't be ignored that maybe he was coerced by the authorities to take it back. So was the prison really burning? There's been no supporting evidence for that, from photos, videos, or any other reports. It feels like a thin excuse related to his personal area of expertise - questionable stories about what happened at Abu Salim prison.
Did he even really make the claim? No one else specifies a stated reason for the arrest on the 15th. They presume it was really about that old lawsuit, but can't say what the authorities said. Goheda does. I'm not convinced this narrative is true, but I do lean that way. The alternative has been left just way too vague.
Let's consider again Andy Worthington's article and some imagery he used to tie the Libyan crisis in with the "Arab Spring" uprisings of Egypt and Tunisia. He wrote of "the revolutionary movements that were spreading like wildfire across the Middle East," and noted the origins in the first uprising in Tunisia in the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. A man's rather extreme reaction to a mild act of bureaucratic insensitivity was taken as a sign that the whole government had to be torn down. Maybe it was so, but one must note that the power of fire seems to sometimes unlock energy it doesn't even have a right to.
Where there's fire spreading, in this case it's revolution. So when you see revolution... where's the fire in Libya's supposed spark, in Terbil's accepted arrest saga? Nowhere until the escalating riots afterwards, in the mainstream/rebel version. But Goheda's version has it - in the form of unsupported allegation / apparent outright lie.
Another source I'll be citing: