Looking back on it, I don’t think that being in prison affected me negatively. On the contrary, it has driven me to work tirelessly to defend human rights and prisoners. In 2004, I co-founded Alkarama, an organisation which supports the victims of human rights violations in Arab countries. We use the procedures set out by the United Nations (special procedures, committees etc.) to raise awareness of cases of forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture and violation of the right to life. These procedures often enable us to put pressure on the states involved and to help the victims. We face numerous obstacles; the most significant of these is the difficulty of accessing information in some closed countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where human rights abuses are frequent.
In the course of my work, I’ve also visited some prisons in Libya. I was both moved and embarrassed when I entered the cells: I almost felt as though I was invading the prisoners’ privacy. It felt strange to be on the other side of the bars. It brought back memories of my own experience: when I talked to the prisoners, I could understand exactly what they were experiencing and feeling. For example, when one of them complained that they didn’t get enough fruit or yoghurt, I thought to myself “if they’re complaining about that, things must be OK”.
I also understood the impact of imprisonment on the mind and body. I felt a lot of compassion, even towards people who had ties to the old regime and might have participated in or ordered the worst atrocities.