Hanan al Barassi, a lawyer and outspoken critic of abuses in areas held by warlord Khalifa Haftar's illegal militia, was assassinated in public, rights groups say.

Moments before her killing, Hanan al Barassi had been broadcasting a live video via Facebook.
Moments before her killing, Hanan al Barassi had been broadcasting a live video via Facebook. ()

Gunmen have shot dead a prominent lawyer and critic of warlord Khalifa Haftar in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, as political talks in neighbouring Tunisia focused on a roadmap towards elections in Libya.

Hanan al Barassi, an outspoken critic of abuses in the eastern areas controlled by Haftar's illegal militia, was shot dead in public, rights groups said.

Al Barassi, "was shot dead in Road 20, one of the main commercial streets in Benghazi," said a security source to AFP news agency, who asked to remain anonymous. 

"Moments earlier, she had been broadcasting a live video via Facebook."

It was a reminder of the bloodshed still racking Libya as peace talks continued in Tunis and military negotiators hashed out ceasefire details in the frontline city of Sirte.

"Barassi has been publicly vocal about cases of alleged assault and rape of women in Benghazi in which she implicated members of the armed groups in Benghazi, and she also alleged financial fraud," said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International said Barassi and her daughter had received death threats. It noted that her social media page had said on Monday she planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar's family.

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Defending women's rights

A media figure in Libya, 46-year-old Barassi was known for giving voice to female victims of violence in videos that she then broadcast on social media.

She also ran a local association for the defence of women's rights.

In the footage posted to her Facebook page just before she was shot, Barassi speaks to the camera while seated in her car.

She criticises armed groups close to Haftar, saying she had been "threatened."

Barassi's killing comes nearly a year and a half after the disappearance of lawmaker Siham Sergewa, who was abducted from her home in Benghazi by armed men.

Before her abduction, she had slammed an offensive launched by Haftar in April last year to take the capital Tripoli from the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Sergewa's whereabouts are still unknown.

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Social media outcry

The murder of Barassi sparked an outcry across Libya, with many on social media demanding justice.

The news of Barassi's killing "is appalling and a painful reminder of the reality on the ground especially for women," said fellow Libyan lawyer Elham Saudi, who is also known for her defence of human rights.

"With no accountability, violators will continue to get away with literal murder in broad day light."

Salah called the incident "frightening and chilling."

It is "reminiscent of other crimes of this kind for which nobody has ever been punished. Authorities in the east must investigate quickly and hold the criminals accountable," she wrote on Twitter.

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Divided country since 2014

Libya has been split since 2014 between Haftar's militia in the east and the internationally recognised GNA in Tripoli in the west.

Both sides represent coalitions of armed groups as well as regional and political factions. Turkey supports the GNA, while the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt back Haftar.

In June the GNA repelled a 14-month LNA assault on Tripoli and front lines have solidified near Sirte on Libya's central Mediterranean coast.

Last month the UN brokered a ceasefire and on Tuesday a joint military commission from both sides met at a new Sirte headquarters to detail ways to implement it, including withdrawals from the front lines.

The progress in military talks comes as the United Nations presses political talks in Tunis involving 75 representatives to discuss a path to elections and the formation of a new unified transitional government.

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Source: Reuters