BENGHAZI (Libya): Young and unassuming, Fethi Terbil is the Libyan lawyer who dared to challenge Muammar Qadhafi and whose arrest triggered a revolt for change inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Like Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old martyr to social and political malaise, in Tunisia and Wael Ghoneim who denounced police torture in Egypt, Terbil has become a face of the uprising against Qadhafi.

“I want him to face justice at a fair trial,” says the lawyer, wearing a cap with his neck wrapped in a keffiyeh, the checked scarf made famous by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and sports shoes on his feet.

“It's the uniform of the revolution,” says the 39-year-old, betraying his nerves to suddenly find himself the object of scrutiny of world's television cameras, photographers and journalists in Libya's second city Benghazi.

“I hope with all my heart that Qadhafi is arrested alive, but if that isn't possible...” he tails off, his words petering out as he slides a hand across his throat, the meaning all too clear.

It was years ago that Terbil got the best case of his life when the Qadhafi regime brutally suppressed a mutiny at Abu Slim prison near Tripoli in 1996.

Human rights organisations say 1,200 prisoners were killed. One of Terbil's brothers, cousins and a brother-in-law were among the dead.

“The prisoners mutinied to demand better conditions, fair trials and visiting rights,” said Terbil. “This brutal and oppressive regime massacred them in the space of two or three hours, and then tried to cover up the crime.”

Since agreeing to represent a group of families in Benghazi, who lost loved ones in the crackdown, Terbil has been arrested seven times.

Four days after massive protests forced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to resign after nearly 30 years in power, the Libyan security forces came for Terbil again.

“On Feb 15, about 20 heavily armed security personnel came to arrest me at home,” he said. “The news spread quickly among the victims' families who decided to demonstrate for my release”.

“I was taken to Abdallah Senussi, who is in charge of Qadhafi's security personnel and who was in Benghazi,” he said. “He was very nervous and asked what our aims were. I told him the truth about Abu Slim and justice,” said the lawyer.

“I realised what he wanted was to stop the demonstration.

“I suggested he let me speak to the demonstrators but he said the security forces would stop them if they wanted to protest, and that he didn't want to make me into a hero,” said Terbil.

Terbil was finally released at dawn on Feb 16. “We met that day and he refused my suggestion to let the protest go ahead,” the lawyer said.

On Feb 17, the uprising began in Benghazi and the city fell quickly to Qadhafi's opponents. But the young man doesn't see a prominent role for himself in any new transitional or elected government should Qadhafi fall.

“It's difficult to hold high office in this country and I don't think I have either the capacities or the ambition,” he said.—AFP

Updated Feb 27, 2011 09:02pm

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