Seham Sergiwa, a Libyan psychologist and lawmaker, was abducted from her home in Benghazi on July 17th. Her family members claim she was taken by members of the Libyan National Army militia under orders given by militia leader, Khalifa Haftar.
Sergiwa has family in the United States who are fighting for her safe return. Adam Sergiwa, Seham’s brother who lives in La Porte, Indiana, was contacted by a nephew in Libya as soon as she went missing. Sergiwa’s husband was shot during her abduction, but survived.
So far, no individual or group has taken responsibility. No one has demanded money or information. The only lead is this message that was spray painted on the wall of Sergiwa’s home at the time of her abduction: “Don’t cross the line of the army.”
Here’s what you need to know about Seham Sergiwa:
1. Sergiwa Was Among The First to Protest Gaddafi’s Government During the Arab Spring
Sergiwa left Libya for London in the late 1990s where she earned her doctorate in clinical psychology. She worked in her field until the late 2000s before returning to Libya at the wake of the Arab Spring.
Sergiwa was one of the first to protest Gaddafi’s corrupt government that banned freedom of speech, private businesses and books and used murder as means of legal punishment. Over 50,000 people died during the uprising to oust him.
The UN put out a statement July 18th, demanding the release of Sergiwa and reminding Libya the freedoms that were granted after the Arab Spring came to an end.
Unlawful arrest and abduction based on political views or affiliations constitute a serious blow to the rule of law and blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. UNSMIL stresses that silencing the voices of women in decision-making position will not be tolerated and reiterates its strong commitment to support the crucial role Libyan women play in peacemaking and peace-building and their full participation and involvement in the political life and decision-making.
Some critics say the Arab Spring left a vacuum in the Middle East that made it easy for leaders like Haftar to rally support for a stronger government. Haftar’s “strong man” approach caught the attention of Sergiwa, who noticed a pattern and did not want to return to dictatorship. She publicly condemned his methods the day she went missing.
2. Sergiwa Condemned Haftar And His Army Hours Before She Was Kidnapped
“She might be the only person who doesn’t fear him,” Sergiwa’s brother told a local news station in his town of La Porte, Indiana. “She never feared him. She has always been outspoken against his violence.”
Over a thousand people are dead, thousands are wounded and tens of thousands are displaced in what is being called “the 2019 Western Libya Offense.” On April 4th, a battle for Tripoli began. With the help of Egyptian leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Haftar went in with his army to capture the capital and kick out the UN-recognized government. Sergiwa opposes Haftar’s efforts and has been applying pressure to the Libyan parliament to stop him.
3. Sergiwa Has Served in The House of Representatives in Libya For Five Years And is a Strong Women’s Rights Advocate
After the ousting of Gaddafi, Sergiwa ran for a seat in the Libyan parliament and won. She’s been representing the people of Benghazi for over five years. She advocates strongest for the end of the Libyan civil war and for the rights of women in the Middle East.
During the 2011 Libyan Civil War, Sergiwa started documenting cases of rape and sexual abuse among women protestors. She’s continued to do so throughout her time in the parliament. Her brother, Adam, is convinced that the military is threatened by how “outspoken she is against the violence.”
The Libyan House of Representatives issued a statement holding Haftar “legally and morally” responsible for jeopardizing Sergiwa’s life.
Sirgiwa has a political immunity and her kidnappers must be brought to justice. The perpetrators must be part of Haftar’s forces as they have details about her location.
4. Sergiwa Has Called For The Unifying of All Parties, Including The Muslim Brotherhood
Sergiwa told a pro-Haftar television channel shortly before her abduction, that all parties need to unite to free Libya, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Her interviewer reminded her that the Muslim Brotherhood is linked to al Qaeda and ISIS. Sergiwa responded with, “don’t you also have extremists on the other side supporting the Libya National Army? Even the extremists, on either side, have the right to participate.”
Barah Mikail, a friend of Sergiwa’s, told NBNews24 that Sergiwa is “against anything that stands in the way of building or consolidating the country’s interests and the Libyan nation.”
“Individuals required scapegoats, and also I believe that Seham wound up being a very easy target for her opponents,” he said.
5. Sergiwa’s Family is Being Held by Armed Guards
Sergiwa’s niece wrote a letter to The Associated Press asking why there are still no leads to her aunt’s whereabouts.
She added that her uncle (Seham’s husband) and other family members are being held captive by the military in Benghazi. Everyone in the home at the time of Sergiwa’s abduction was shot. Those individuals have been detained by the Libyan Army. They’ve had their means of communication taken from them and have been denied their rights.
Tarek El-Kharras, the spokesman for the government’s Interior Ministry, denies the claim that Sergiwa’s family members are being held against their will, also the claim that the armed forces lead by Haftar have anything to do with Sergiwa’s abduction.
The U.N. continues to put pressure on Libyan authorities to investigate, repeating that this is an “unlawful arrest and abduction based on political views.”