BENGHAZI, Libya -- Each year, when the holy month of Ramadan arrives, Ibrahim Shwehdi is gripped by ineffable sadness. A month of reflection and mercy is, for him, an occasion of grief and loss.
It was during Ramadan in 1984, just before Libyans sat down at sunset to break the daily fast, that Shwehdi's brother Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi was hanged before a crowd at a Benghazi basketball arena.
The execution was televised live, and people across eastern Libya watched in horror as thousands in the arena cheered. It was unthinkable for a Muslim leader, even one as repressive as Moammar Gadhafi, to stage a public execution during Ramadan, a month of prayer, charity and fasting. Yet Gadhafi ordered 11 public executions of dissidents around the country during Ramadan.
As this year's Ramadan arrives, Libyans who have rebelled against Gadhafi are still outraged by those executions 27 years ago. With Gadhafi's security forces driven from eastern Libya in February, this is the first Ramadan in 41 years that Shwehdi, 62, and others here will spend free from Gadhafi's autocratic rule.
Yet there is no rejoicing in Shwehdi's cramped third-floor walk-up apartment, where he has set up a small shrine to his martyred brother who had taken up arms against Gadhafi's regime all those years ago.
"All Libyans despise Gadhafi, but no one despises him like our family -- he has ruined us," Shwehdi said in lightly accented English.
The Ramadan executions remain a rallying point for Gadhafi's opponents. TV and radio programs aired tributes this week to Sadiq and others executed. Survivors of Gadhafi's prisons are gathering here to commemorate the deaths.
The shocking killings remain seared in the memories of Libyans, said Khalid el-Wirshfany, a Muslim scholar who was a teenager at the time and but still remembers details of Shwehdi's televised hanging.
"It really created a sense of anger and disgust, it was so barbaric," said Wirshfany, general secretary of the Libyan Religious Scholars Society in Benghazi.
Executions during Ramadan are strictly forbidden under Islamic law, he said.
"Gadhafi meant it as an insult and a threat: Anyone who opposes him will be terminated," Wirshfany said. "For a lot of Libyans, that was the moment the revolution began."
Ibrahim Shwehdi also paid a price for his family's resistance to Gadhafi. He was jailed and subjected to a torture known as falakah. The soles of his feet were beaten so badly that he is now confined to a wheelchair.
Shwehdi, silver-maned, is a big, forceful man, but he struggles to hold back tears when he discusses his brother's execution.
Sadiq, an aeronautical engineer, was dragged from his home on his 30th birthday after he and a small band of fellow insurgents blew up a Libyan government military base. He had been trained in guerrilla tactics in Morocco and Iraq, and returned to Libya with fellow insurgents determined to overthrow Gadhafi, his brother said.
On the fifth day of Ramadan, in year 1404 of the Islamic calendar, Sadiq was taken to Benghazi's central arena. A makeshift gallows was set up and Gadhafi's security forces rounded up schoolchildren to attend, Shwehdi said.
Passing motorists were stopped and herded inside to witness the spectacle. In front of a panel of officials, Sadiq was forced to confess his attempts to topple the regime, which his brother said he never denied. Sadiq had one request, he said, to see his mother one last time. It was denied.
Members of Gadhafi's security police struck up a rhyming chant: "No mercy! No mercy! Brother Leader, hang the traitor!" Gadhafi refers to himself as Brother Leader.
With state-run TV broadcasting the event live, Sadiq was hanged before a cheering crowd of thousands, Shwehdi said. The execution was rebroadcast repeatedly over the next few days.
In truth, Sadiq did not die right away. He was taken to a hospital, where authorities ordered him killed by lethal injection, Shwehdi said.
Shwehdi keeps videos of the hanging on his home computer. Photos of his brother being hanged are stored on his cellphone. He showed them to a visitor.
"You see? Gadhafi chose Ramadan to prove to us that he would do anything to terrorize our people," he said. "This man is no Muslim. He tried to kill the best things inside every Muslim here."
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