Tripoli, March 14: Two British journalists held by Misrata’s Saadoun Swehli brigade for the past three weeks have been released into . . .[restrict]the custody of the government. The deputy interior minister Umar Khadrawi confirmed the move on Wednesday.
Nicholas Davies-Jones and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson were seized on February 21 while photographing in Tripoli. They were working for Iran’s Press TV and had been in Libya for the past six months without visas, both of which local observers said did not help their situation.
At one point, the head of the brigade, Faraj Swehli, even suggested they were Israeli spies. They were held in the brigade’s headquarters in Tripoli at the Girl’s Military Academy.
“The British journalists are in our custody and will be released following procedural interrogation,” Khadrawi has said.
It is thought they will be deported.
On Tuesday, a video of the two in seemingly good condition was released by the brigade. In it they apologised for entering Libya illegally.
Ever since the two were seized, the government tried to get the brigade to hand them over, calling the brigade’s action illegal. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International also called for their release, demanding that the brigade hand them over to the authorities. However, it persistently refused and it seemed that the two had become pawns in a power struggle.
The situation fundamentally changed with last week’s three-day national conference in the brigade’s home city of Misrata. On Thursday, the NTC, local councils and brigades from across the country agreed that all militias must return to their home towns within a week and hand over all functions and assets they hold to the national authorities. That included, in this case, the two Britons.
With the Misrata local council actively supporting the move, the Saadoun Swehli brigade had little room for manoeuvre and said they would comply, although no date was set.
On Tuesday, however, it seemed as if it might be backtracking. In an interview on Libya TV, a spokesman for the brigade questioned whether it should return to Misrata at the moment, claiming that it was needed in Tripoli where, he claimed, it was protecting 200 site. Pressed by the interviewer, he was unable to name more than a handful.
The apparent backtracking brought a stiff response from Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal who said that the government would continue to negotiate with the brigades that did not return home but if that failed it would use force against them. [/restrict]