May 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Libyan LGBT activist hopes to leave Benghazi
Benghazi, Libya, gay news, Washington Blade

Benghazi, Libya (Photo by Shaltut; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A Libyan LGBT rights activist who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his name was driving in the city of Benghazi in 2014 when three Islamic militants stopped his car.

The men had Kalashnikovs, and one of them tried to open the door to his car. The men shot at him as he drove away.

“Thank God (they) didn’t do anything to me,” the activist told the Blade on Saturday during a telephone interview from Tunisia where he was attending a human rights conference.

Benghazi, which is on the Mediterranean Sea, is Libya’s second largest city. It is located slightly more than 400 miles east of the country’s capital of Tripoli.

The activist, who is 36 and studied medicine before becoming a journalist, told the Blade that LGBT people in Benghazi are under increased threat since the 2011 revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Militants with the so-called Islamic State’s Libya chapter, which has its stronghold in the city of Sirte that is roughly halfway between Benghazi and Tripoli, last year clashed with the Libyan Army in an attempt to take control of the activist’s hometown. He told the Blade that a woman and child died and 28 others were injured on May 6 when members of the Sunni militant group fired a rocket into the center of Benghazi.

Members of Ansar al-Sharia, which is an affiliate of al-Qaida, killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans during a raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to face criticism from Republican lawmakers over her handling of the incident.

The activist told the Blade that police officers may have sent an LGBT person to jail before 2011.

“Now it’s different,” he said. “If they catch you, they can immediately kill you.”

The Libyan Army currently controls 95 percent of Benghazi.

The Islamic State and another militant group control the remaining five percent of the city. The activist with whom the Blade spoke said the three militants who attacked his car in 2014 later swore allegiance to the Islamic State.

The activist told the Blade that he knows people who have been killed by militia members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

He said he knows of at least four LGBT people who have been murdered in Benghazi.

“Everything is allowed,” he said. “You have guns. You had people who hated the LGBT community before.”

“Now we can’t do anything without being afraid,” added the activist. “Everyone has guns. It’s very easy to kill them. The LGBT community is an easy target.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are punishable by up to five years in prison.

The State Department’s 2015 human rights report notes Islamic militias “often policed communities” in Libya “to enforce compliance with militia commanders’ understanding of ‘Islamic’ behavior, and harassed and threatened with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.”

The Islamic State has publicly executed dozens of men in Syria and Iraq accused of sodomy. The activist with whom the Blade spoke said members of the Sunni militant group have also killed gay men in Derna, a city that is roughly 180 miles east of Benghazi.

He said that international human rights groups have been working with him for more than a year to help him leave Libya. The activist told the Blade he hopes to resettle in Canada.

Libya, gay news, Washington Blade

Islamic militants shot at a Libyan LGBT rights activist’s car in 2014 while he drove in the city of Benghazi. (Photo submitted)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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