Tripoli, 24 July:
A British journalist has been deported from Libya for carrying out unauthorised filming at a military base on the outskirts of Tripoli.
Sharon Ward, a freelance broadcaster who has worked for the BBC, was arrested at the Janzour Naval Academy on Thursday afternoon, where she had been documenting the plight of 2,000 refugees currently housed at the facility.
“I had obtained permission to film from the leader of the refugees there”, New Zealand-born Ward told the Libya Herald shortly before her deportation this afternoon. “From day one I believed that would be sufficient”.
What the journalist had failed to do, however, was inform the authorities at Janzour, although she was granted access to the base and allowed to film for four hours before anybody thought to stop her.
Just nine months on from the demise of Qaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship, official sensitives over infractions by foreign journalists in Libya remain high.
Two weeks ago, a Danish journalist was deported for attempting to vault the wall of the conference centre being used to announce Libya’s general election results, wearing nothing more than a T-shirt, shorts and trainers, whilst carrying no identification of any kind.
Ward’s situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the refugees on the base were from Tawergha, a former pro-Qaddafi stronghold whose fate remains amongst the bitterest legacies of last year’s revolution.
During the conflict, Tawerghans were accused of committing horrendous crimes for the Qaddafi regime against the nearby city of Misrata, with instances of rape, looting and murder reported on a widespread scale. Subsequently, Misratans exacted collective punishment, forcing almost all of the 30,000 occupants of Tawergha to flee. It is now a ghost town. Many thousands are now being held in camps across Libya, including at Janzour.
Having been detained for several hours, first at the camp and then at a Supreme Security Committee facility in Fornaj, Tripoli, Ward was released into the care of the British Embassy at around 1 a.m. on Friday morning to await further questioning.
What then transpired was a mixture of the tragic and the absurd, starting with a hapless attempt by the journalist to conceal the tapes recorded in Janzour upon being returned to her hotel room.
“I put them in the rubbish bin thinking that would be the safest place for them” she said. “I thought that if anyone came searching my room, they wouldn’t look there.”
Ward had not counted on the hotel maid, however, who disposed of the tapes following her return to custody for further interrogation on Saturday.
The situation became more serious after Ward told her captors the name of the refugee who had authorised her to film in Janzour, leading to his arrest and interrogation on Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t know if he is still being held or if he has been released”, the journalist said. “As soon as I return to London I want to find out what’s happened to him. I’m worried for his safety.”
Ward herself spent both Saturday and Sunday in detention, before being handed over to the British Embassy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday afternoon.
In a statement released shortly after 4 p.m. this afternoon an Embassy spokeswoman said: “Sharon Ward voluntarily left Libya today and the British embassy would like to thank the Libyan authorities for their assistance in resolving Sharon’s case”.
It is believed that British officials were very unhappy at the journalist’s actions on the basis that they compromised both her own safety and that of Tawerghan refugees.
It is understood that British Airways agreed to changed Ward’s return ticket to a single at no extra cost.