Today I will complete my 93rd class in 93 consecutive days–only 7 to go to meet the challenge. Actually, I have 8 to go, since the custom at our studio is to attend a class on the next day. People have been congratulating me already and commenting on what a great accomplishment it is. I’m shrugging. It’s not so impressive. What it is is luxurious. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to go to class for hundreds of reasons. Some of them are that I have a strong and healthy body, that I have the money to pay for classes, that I live in a society in which I can stand in a room with half-naked men and women and exercise, that I can speak out and demonstrate against my government without being shot, or imprisoned, or tortured.
It’s actually bizarre to stare at myself in the mirror and practice the breathing exercises or half-moon pose or standing bow or any of the postures while knowing that people in the region where civilization–an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture has been reached–is most ancient are killing their fellow citizens from rooftops and airplanes. People all over the middle east, northern Africa and central Asia, from Iraq and Iran to Libya and Yemen, are dying because they are standing up for what we North Americans (including Canada, of course) consider to be fundamental civil liberties: the freedom to assemble, to speak out, to choose our government.
A recent article summarizes some of the abuses of the Libyan government since Quadafhi took power in 1969:
1970s – ARRESTS, TELEVISED HANGINGS
Rights groups and Gaddafi’s foes say that throughout the 1970s police and security forces arrested hundreds of Libyans who opposed, or who the authorities feared could oppose, his rule.
Student demonstrations were put down violently. Political opponents were arrested and imprisoned, or simply disappeared.
Police and security forces rounded up academics, lawyers, students, journalists, Trotskyists, communists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others considered “enemies of the revolution,” Human Rights Watch says. Gaddafi warned anyone who tried to organize politically they would face repression.
“I could at any moment send them to the People’s Court … and the People’s Court will issue a sentence of death based on this law, because execution is the fate of anyone who forms a political party,” Gaddafi said in a speech on November 9, 1974.
A number of televised public hangings and mutilations of political opponents followed, rights groups say.
In 1976 Gaddafi authorized the execution of 22 officers who had participated in an attempted coup the previous year, in addition to the execution of several civilians, rights activist Mohamed Eljahmi has written.
1980s: DETENTION, DISAPPEARANCES
In 1980 authorities introduced a policy of extrajudicial executions of political opponents abroad, termed “stray dogs.”
According to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine by rights activist Eljahmi, Gaddafi’s then deputy Abdel Salam Jalloud issued a public justification in 1980 for the assassination of dissidents abroad, telling Italian media:
“Many people who fled abroad took with them goods belonging to the Libyan people … Now they are putting their illicit gains at the disposal of the opposition led by (then Egyptian leader Anwar) Sadat, world imperialism, and Israel.”
A failed coup attempt in May 1984 apparently mounted by exiles with internal support led to the imprisonment of thousands of people. An unknown number of people were executed.
In 1988 there was a period which appeared to herald important human rights reforms. Authorities freed hundreds of political prisoners in a wide-ranging amnesty.
But more repression ensued in 1989. According to Amnesty International, which had visited the country in 1988, the government instituted “mass arbitrary arrest and detention, “disappearances,’ torture, and the death penalty.”
1990s: MASS KILLING AT PRISON
In 1993, after a failed coup attempt in which senior army officers were implicated, Gaddafi began to purge the military periodically, eliminating potential rivals and replacing them with loyalists.
In what critics call probably the bloodiest act of internal repression, more than 1,000 prisoners were shot dead by security forces on June 28 and 29, 1996 in Abu Salim prison, according to Human Rights Watch.
The scale of the killings was confirmed by the Libyan Secretary of Justice to Human Rights Watch in April 2009, and in a press release by Saif al-Islam’s Gaddafi Foundation charity on August 10, 2009 which set the number at 1,167.
For years Libyan officials denied that the killings at Abu Salim had ever taken place. The first public acknowledgement was in April 2004 when Gaddafi said killings had taken place there, and that prisoners’ families had the right to know what took place. To date there has been no official account of the events at Abu Salim prison.
2000s: MAN FREED — AFTER 31 YEARS
Rights groups say the authorities have taken limited steps to address the situation, including releasing some political prisoners and allowing infrequent visits by rights groups.
In 2001 nearly 300 prisoners, among them political prisoners, were released. They included Libya’s longest-serving political prisoner, Ahmad Zubayr Ahmad al-Sanussi, accused of involvement in an attempted coup in 1970 and who spent 31 years in prison, many of them in solitary confinement.
More than 700 prisoners accused of having ties to Islamist militant groups have been released in the past three years under a reconciliation program organized by the Gaddafi Foundation.
(Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, U.S. State Department, Libyan political scientist Mansour Kikhia, Mohamed Eljahmi, co-founder of the American Libyan Freedom Alliance, Reuters)
Obviously things have not improved in Libya–not if Quadhafi has so terrorized his armies and police to make them willing to shoot their brothers and sisters who are bravely standing up against this violence.
After yoga last night I had a discussion–not quite an argument–with a friend about the wisdom of the non-violent pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya and other countries. His contention was that they were foolishly inspired by the Egyptians because, obviously, the Libyan government would massacre them. I countered that this was a very condescending attitude towards the people of Libya, who knew far better than we could what dangers they faced as they stoood up to oppression and violence. He found them ignorant. I found them wise and brave. People are not sheep. We don’t know that the protesters will succeed in bringing an end to Quadhafi’s tyranny, of course. But we can be certain that tyranny will continue if the people do not stand up to it.
I’m grateful for my yoga classes, for my privileges, and especially for the opportunity to meditate and breathe consciously every single day. I’m also grateful to the people of Libya, and Egypt, and Yemen, and Bahrain, for standing up and speaking out. Namaste. It means: I acknowledge the goodness in me and salute the goodness in you.