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Remembering Salwa Bugaighis, The Libyan Advocate Who Took On Ghadafi


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Now, sobering news out of Libya - a prominent rights activist was shot and stabbed to death in her home last night. Salwa Bugaighis was a lawyer from Benghazi who had opposed former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Today, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice issued a statement lauding her courage and leadership. NPR's Leila Fadel had visited Bugaighis just recently, and has this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Salwa Bugaighis was an advocate for human rights and was, most recently, trying to mediate peace and reconciliation between Libya's many warring factions. Yesterday, she was in her hometown of Benghazi to vote in the country's parliamentary election, which she saw as a step toward the Libya she envisioned - democratic and stable. But hours later, she was dead in her living room. Her husband was also home, and his whereabouts are unknown. Her sister, Iman Bugaighis, told us by phone that a cousin found her.

I. BUGAIGHIS: Salwa was stabbed and shot, and she was on the floor, and blood was coming out of her.

FADEL: The assailants - unknown. A police response - nonexistent in a place where militias are the only semblance of law. I first met her in Benghazi in February 2011. She was one of a group of lawyers who protested against Gaddafi, and was part of a committee trying to keep order in the city during the revolt. She said that by building institutions, Libya could emerge out of darkness. But the viciousness of her death was at odds of the optimism she expressed just weeks ago when I saw her in the capital. She told me she was hopeful.

S. BUGAIGHIS: Many people think that Benghazi's really died now, but Benghazi's still alive. There is closure of shops - different decoration, and there's people still going to work. Still, they have this hope for a new Libya, and they are working for that.

FADEL: She was worried, though - worried about extremists who considered her a Muslim woman who was outspoken, uncovered and independent - an unbeliever. She also feared loyalists to Gaddafi's regime and criminal gangs.

BUGAIGHIS: One month ago, they tried to assassinate my son. And he was driving my car, so maybe they want me. Maybe they want my family or - and this is not about Selwa. You know, there is many, many of the activists - many of the people from national Army, from the police, that targeted.

FADEL: But it didn't dash her hopes. She said that people were standing up to the extremists in their city.

BUGAIGHIS: So I think this is a good time to facing them, and to build the state that we went in the beginning of the revolution - that we are asking for.

FADEL: Her death has sent shockwaves through the activist community, reeling with grief and with fear. The last pictures on her Facebook page shows her voting at a polling station, and then there's an ominous photo, also taken yesterday, from the rooftop of her home showing gunmen in the street just outside her gate. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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