Dozens of relatives of jailed Moammar Gadhafi loyalists protested outside a Tripoli prison Thursday, alleging detainees were being mistreated by former rebel fighters now in charge of the lockup.
A Libyan official, Mahmoud Shammam, said most prisons are still under the control of semi-autonomous groups of fighters, not the interim government.
Human rights groups have reported mistreatment of detainees in lockups run by former rebels, and Shammam, the information minister, acknowledged that "we have a lot of problems in the prisons."
He said the latest allegations underscore the need to speed up the period of transition in Libya, following the fall of Gadhafi's regime and the dictator's capture and death on Oct. 20.
Under the current timetable, a national assembly is to be elected within just under eight month and prepare for a new constitution and further elections.
Shammam said he believes the national assembly could be chosen within six months to shorten the period of limbo. "The clock is ticking, and we have to move faster than we are doing right now," Shammam told The Associated Press.
Shammam said he was expressing his personal view.
Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, has also expressed hopes for a faster transition. "Perhaps we can shorten this period of time, so Libyans can quickly select their national congress," Abdul-Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, said Wednesday.
On Thursday, angry relatives of former Gadhafi loyalists protested outside a prison in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura, demanding that the detainees be freed for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins this weekend. According to a list of names posted outside the gate, about 1,000 detainees are being held there.
Salah Shambo, 53, said he visited two cousins, a former member of the security services and a hospital employee, in the prison earlier this week. Shambo said the former hospital employee told him he had been held in a small bathroom in the prison for a month, with his hands cuffed to a wall, and that his head was dunked in a toilet during interrogation.
Other relatives said they were told by detainees that they were beaten, particularly after guards got drunk, and that cells were crowded.
One released prisoner, who said he had been held for 50 days, said his cellmate was tortured with electrical shocks. The ex-detainee, a former intelligence agent under Gadhafi, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Relatives said conditions have improved since a new group of guards arrived a week ago.
Mohammed Garghouti, 25, a neighborhood resident, said he initially supported the anti-Gadhafi forces but was becoming disillusioned. "A lot of people died for a nice future," he said of the 8-month civil war that brought down the dictator. "Why do you do bad again, like Gadhafi?" he said, referring to the former rebels now running the prison.
Prison officials declined comment.