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The Prison Governor of the Huda Foundation for prison and Reform, Misrata, prays with colleagues. © Louis Quail

Louis Quail makes a habit of going to zones that have been hit hard by human or natural emergency. He does so after said emergencies have tempered down and the world’s media has generally moved on. I celebrated his close and slow study of Haitians in May, 2010, a full four months after the devastating earthquake.

In the year since the end of the war, Quail has been in Libya. A small selection (seven) of his portraits were featured on the Guardian website yesterday. Quail has 25 images including candid, landscape and street shots on his website. The full body of work (I’ve viewed a PDF) comprises 25 interviews and 58 images.

Included in Quail’s series are three images from a prison.

“The model for the prison is an Islamic one where the prisoners are treated like their brothers, security is minimal with only one gate and a few guards. There is a strong sense of mutual respect and focus on Islam,” writes Quail.

Here I post two images and extended quotes that Quail recorded.

“We respect human rights here,” says a prison guard. “We repair them psychologically and think about how to make them good people – to turn them from fighters into civilians. Gadaffi taught them no respect. He told them they were better than other Libyans.”

“We want all prisons to be like this – if we don’t deal with the prisoners properly we will store up problems for the future – but it’s not popular with the government. It’s not a vote winner.”

“We are under-resourced at the moment. Our doctors and nurses are prisoners who have been trained by Medicine sans Frontiers and volunteers. We have 25 guards and access to 25 katibers outside, but even the prisoners tell us they will not run away because it’s much safer here for them here.”

But forgiveness and forward thinking is difficult when transition and immediate history has been so violent.

“We can’t deny there have been some human rights abuses, deaths in custody, torture in the revolutionary stages,” says a prison guard. “The families here in Misrata have seen their members killed and the girls raped. […] We have some mercenaries [in the prison] but to be honest, most died in the war. There was very little sympathy for them, there were many executions. They were from places like Darfur and Sudan, often on drugs or drunk. The doctors reported 700 cases of rape in Misrata, 132 of them on civilians aged between 12 and 15 years old.”

Omar, a previous Gadaffi militia member, talks to one of the prison guards at The Huda Foundation for Prison and Reform, in Misrata. © Louis Quail

“I was an elite fighter in Regiment 32 ran by Gadaffi’s son,” says Omar, a former Gadaffi loyalist. “In April 2011, I was fighting in Misrata, many people were dying and injured and I was shot in the legs, unable to move and was caught. It’s ok here. It’s very calm, they treat us like brothers. I have heard about other prisons where It’s not so good. After spending time here I no longer want to be a fighter, now we have to forgive each other and move on.”

Late last night, I heard a report by a BBC World Service journalist from Tripoli. Escorted by a government liaison officer, the journo only met members of the public who were fervent Gaddafi supporters (one of Gaddafi’s information officers was captured by rebels last week and estimated 70% of people in Tripoli supported Gaddafi.)

During the report, he spoke with men piecing together a huge “photo” of Gaddafi in Green Square. I had heard nothing of this so this morning jumped on my computer to see for myself.

If it weren’t for the BBC report, I may have considered the above images an elaborate hoax – a) because I’d not heard of this month-old photo-stunt, and b) because it just seems so bonkers.

The images are screengrabs from Libyan TV made Sate Hamza ساطع, whose Twitter profile reads, “Syrian-Canadian dermatopathologist practicing in Winnipeg. Lived in the US. Enjoy comedy, world music & multimedia. Follow global news & current affairs. Vegan.” He blogs here.

Sate, whose Twitter handle is sate3 posted the screengrabs to TwitPic on 24th July with the message, “Giant photo of Gaddafi in Green Square in Tripoli unveiled yesterday (July 22, 2011), on Libyan TV. #Libya

So, I ask for a bit of feedback. Had anyone else heard of this massive photograph? If so, can you help me with some more resources. If not, why not? How does this compare to other examples from history of nationalistic/cult of the personality shows of strength?

UPDATE: Two images from Reuters here and here.


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