In the summer of 1996, the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi killed 1,200 to 1,400 inmates of Abu Salim, Tripoli's main political prison, after a riot sparked by appalling conditions. For 15 years, the regime has tried to suppress the massacre, refusing to release the names of those killed or to return their bodies to their families. Libyans who challenge the official version of events tend to wind up in places like Abu Salim.
So lawyer Fathi Terbil, 39, showed extraordinary courage just by agreeing to represent the families of those killed. Sure enough, he was arrested in February. Then a group of lawyers and judges gathered in front of Benghazi's main courthouse to protest. The victims' families joined them, and the demonstration grew into a full-blown rebellion that has liberated eastern Libya from Gaddafi's grasp and may yet topple him from Tripoli.
Matar's new novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, will be published in the U.S. in August