CAIRO: A court in eastern Libya sentenced five people to life in prison after they were convicted of human trafficking over the deaths of 11 migrants who were on a rickety boat trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the office of Libya’s chief prosecutor said Monday.
The court in the city of Bayda also sentenced nine other defendants to 15 years in prison each, the office of General Prosecutor Al-Sediq Al-Sourr said in a statement. Another 24 others were jailed for a year, the statement added.
The defendants were part of a network smuggling migrants from Libya to Europe, it said. The statement did not say when the deadly shipwreck took place or provide further details.
The court ruling was the latest in the conflict-wracked North African nation to target traffickers. On Friday, the chief prosecutor’s office said another court in the capital, Tripoli, sentenced one defendant to life in prison and two others to 20 years each for human trafficking.
In recent years, Libya has become a major transit point for Middle Eastern and African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to seek a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country descended into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi.
Human traffickers have benefited from the instability in Libya, smuggling migrants across borders from six nations, including Egypt, Algeria and Sudan. They then pack desperate people into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels for the risky voyage across the central Mediterranean.
For years, the United Nations and rights groups have decried the inhumane conditions faced by migrants trafficked and smuggled across the Mediterranean.
In March, UN-backed human rights experts said there was evidence that crimes against humanity had been committed against Libyans and migrants in in Libya, including women being forced into sexual slavery.