Geopolitics

Bab al-Aziziya: Inside The Walls Of Gaddafi's Bunker Compound

As rebel troops launch what appears to be a final assault on the famously fortified compound on the outskirts of Tripoli, an Italian reporter recounts the legends and his own personal experience within the gates of Bab-el Aziza.

Satellite image of Gaddafi's bunker (Google)
Satellite image of Gaddafi's bunker (Google)
Guido Ruotolo

Back when Muammar Gaddafi was still in full control of Libya, only those formally invited or members of an official delegation were admitted to his main bunker headquarters, Bab al-Aziziya. Once there, everyone had to go through invasive controls. There was a passage in front of the sentry boxes. Then, at the first checkpoint, everyone had to leave the cell phone. Photo and video cameras were searched. Finally, there were body searches and a walk through metal detectors.

The walls surrounding the base were made of reinforced concrete, and disposed in three concentric circles. After each circle, there was a labyrinth of several corridors running in zigzags to the next level. It was a claustrophobic experience. At the end, people exited onto a field, surrounded by some buildings and a big white tent. Sometimes, there were quietly pasturing camels around. It was Gaddafi's world: Bab al-Aziziya, his Bedouin tent and metropolitan fortress.

This was that famous collapsed compound, which had been turned into a sort of museum. The Colonel enjoyed humiliating his Western visitors. Before being admitted to his presence, ambassadors and personalities from around the world were forced to enter in the compound.

The building had been bombed in 1986 by order of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, in response to a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American soldiers. The visitors' expiation walk led them through a ruin where everything had been kept as it was at the time of the attack. There were ruins, dust, and residue of bombs. Outside, posters and pictures told the story of those events.

The regime's version of the story tells that the Italian prime minister at the time, Bettino Craxi, had forewarned Gaddafi of the air strike, which saved his life. But Gaddafi's adopted daughter, Hana, was killed in the attack. According to sources of the opposition groups that may be soon the new country's government, Hana did not die. They say that she is alive and works as a doctor.

Bab al-Aziziya has been Gaddafi's main base until the end. An air of mystery surrounded it. There are many mysteries in all Gaddafi's bloody epic.

Since UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 for a Libyan no-fly zone, NATO's bombs have hit the base, aiming to destroy the main headquarter of the regime, Gaddafi and his family. The Colonel's response has been to gather young people and civilians in the base as human shields. He called meetings and rallies there, to refrain NATO from bombing.

"What is hidden under the grass and the building?" is a mystery about to be solved. For years, there were reports of three or four-kilometer-long underground tunnels lead to escape routes towards the sea or the center of Tripoli. In recent weeks, NATO planes are said to have launched bunker-busting bombs to penetrate the cement below.

Bab al-Aziziya literally means the Door Leading to the Village of Aziziya, which was founded by the Turk pasha Aziz. This old story today is easily forgotten. Bab al-Aziziya and the prison Abu Salim are currently symbols of all the suffering of the 40-year-long Gaddafi regime.

Until the end, Gaddafi used his compound as an international stage, a symbol of the Western attacks. He called in the foreign press to document the effect of the airstrikes, though he never gave evidence of the numbers of alleged victims. He has missed one point, though. He did not see how the compound had become a symbol against him. The images Gaddafi has shown during these long six months, have told to the world the story of the slow but inescapable end of his regime.

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo- Google maps


Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ