Gay men in Libya have spoken out about the largest and most powerful militia brigade, and claim that men have been arrested, and assaulted by them, just for being gay.

The Times reported that the Nawasi brigade, Tripoli’s biggest Islamist militia group, are to blame for the abductions and beatings, and witnesses said such arrests are commonplace in the country’s capital.

The city’s largest and most powerful brigade officially work under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and, according to witnesses, were taking people away just for being gay.

Ahmad said he was witness to recent events during which the Nawasi drove past a birthday party, saw a man dressed in a wig and dress, and beat him until he admitted he was gay, at which point he was taken away. He said:

“We think they were on a routine patrol when they heard the music,” explained Ahmad of the militia. “They were sitting outside for nearly half an hour. Then they saw one of the guys wearing a wig and a dress so thought it was girls having a party with boys.

“When they came inside, everyone panicked and the man pulled off his dress and wig. They wanted to know where the girls were, so they beat them until one of them admitted he was gay and that’s when they were taken away,”

After the men were taken away, a picture of detainees from the party appeared on the Nawasi brigade’s Facebook page, in which they had their hands above their heads, and their heads against a wall, with their backs to the camera. Text accompanying the image read “flog them hard”, “ride them like camels” and “let’s see the bullets fly”.

For the interview, Ahmad requested to meet in a shisha café, which was frequented by a lot of Europeans. He said “they are less likely to come and take us away,” speaking with two other men.

The Nawasi brigade have denied that the photographed men’s lives were in danger, and said that the main reason for them being arrested was not that they were gay. He said:

“These guys are not straight, but that’s not the main reason we arrested them,” he said. “The main thing was the big noise they were making to the neighbours, as well as the large amounts of alcohol and hashish we found.”

The detained men were released a week after being taken, with bruises on their backs and legs, and with shaved heads. Ahmad said these types of arrests and beatings were commonplace, and he himself had false teeth because his own were knocked out during an arrest by the Nawasi last August.

Ahmad says that one of the men who took him away still harrassed him. He said:

“Now one of them calls me every two days asking to have sex with me. At other times, he says he will catch me for a second time, that I am not going to live.”

He continued that the situation is worse now than it was under Gaddafi, saying “Back then, the authorities were afraid that if they took us, we would say which officials were gay.”

Ahmad’s companion, Anass, said that two weeks earlier, he had been taken away for two days by the Nawasi brigade, he said that he was released sooner because the brother of a friend he was arrested with was a member of the militia.

A lot of men such as Ahmad and Anass just want to leave Libya because of such treatment by the authorities, as well as alienation from their families.

“At the end of this year we are planning to go to Egypt,” Ahmad and his three companions said. “But the place all of us really want to go is Holland. There, we can be finally be who we are.”

PinkNews previously spoke to a gay activist from eastern Libya, pre and post-Gaddafi, in which he thought there was hope for LGBT people in the country, but that progress would be slow.