Union leader allegedly kidnapped as labour dispute drags on

The alleged kidnapping of a union leader from the labour organisation’s headquarters located on the campus of the University of Tripoli, Libya, on 16 November has sparked outrage in the academic community and from human rights organisations.

Professor Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh, the head of the General Syndicate of University Teaching Staff Members (GSUTSM), is believed to have been the victim of one of two recent abductions.

Another academic, Professor Nouri Suleiman Ali Atiq from the faculty of engineering at Bani Walid University, also allegedly was abducted, an organisation for Libyan teaching assistants has reported.

According to the organisation, he was allegedly kidnapped by “an armed group affiliated with the government, along with some colleagues from the University of Tripoli, during the protest at the University of Tripoli”.

The organisation alleged in a statement on 17 November that internal security services were “blackmailing the protesters to end their strike in exchange for the release of Professor Abdel Fattah Al-Sayeh”.

His kidnapping, according to the organisation, followed a meeting between the union and government representatives on 15 November during which the parties could not agree on how to resolve the labour dispute.

GSUTSM announced an open-ended sit-in protest in September and has suspended studies in all Libyan universities until all its demands have been met.

Widespread condemnation

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) in Libya has condemned the union leader’s disappearance.

“AOHR holds the ministry of the interior of the national unity government responsible for his safety … The kidnapping came in the context of the government’s attempt to break the will of university faculty members and as a means to end the sit-in led by [union members].”

According to the organisation, the sit-in is in accordance with the Constitutional Declaration and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It called on the attorney general to help with the release of the professor.

Staff unions at various universities also spoke out against the events.

Members of the academic staff union at the University of Zintan also criticised the kidnapping and, in a video clip, said the incident was a “threat to the safety of educational institutions, and a flagrant violation of human rights”.

Teaching staff and teaching assistants at the University of Misurata, the University of Sebha and the University of Tobruk all condemned the event.

AlMofad, a forum for Libyan students abroad, issued a statement on 16 November saying: “It is not possible to accept or remain silent about acts of forced absence, and this is not how states act against unions’ demands to improve wages and demand rights.

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the general manger of GSUTSM,” the students said.

Higher education expert Ahmed Atia, the head of the department of advisory and research in the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli in Libya, told University World News the government should act, firstly, to solve the disappearance of the professor and secondly to deal with the reasons for the protests.

Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh, Libya’s prime minister under the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, issued instructions on 16 November to various ministers, including the minister of higher education and scientific research, and the minister of finance, to settle the disagreements about salaries and salary scales, and to issue instructions to universities to implement the decisions.