By Hadi Fornaji
Tripoli, 11 June 2013:
The growing number of attacks, kidnappings . . .[restrict]and threats mounted by militiamen, against both local and foreign journalists, has brought sharp condemnation from the international pressure group Reporters Without Borders (RWB).
“Journalists have repeatedly been attacked, threatened or kidnapped by militias in recent months” said RWB in a statement today. “We urge the Libyan government to guarantee the safety of journalists and to control the behaviour of militias, operating under the command of the defence or interior ministries or integrated into other state entities, even if only on an ad hoc basis. Those responsible for abuses against journalists must be punished.”
RWB cited two recent instances of the militias’ growing hostility to the media, each of which involved a different, unnamed foreign journalist and a Libyan companion.
In the first incident on 28 May, it claimed that : “An international news agency photographer and local citizen-journalist Mohamed Abu Janah were arbitrarily detained for several hours at the Benghazi headquarters of “Libya Shield No. 7”
RWB said that the photographer had been “summoned” by one of the unit’s commanders to take shots of the HQ. However as both journalists left, they were seized by four militiamen and detained for four hours, during which they were interrogated, threatened and insulted.
Their release, said RWB only came after demonstrations outside the base, demanding they be freed. The pressure group added that the militia commanders had claimed that the two journalists had been trying to break into the HQ, which the pair insisted was completely untrue.
A day later, said RWB, this time in Tripoli, an American journalist and “ his Libyan fixer, Mohamed Essul,” were detained by a gunman in civilian clothes outside the Interior Ministry, while covering a demonstration by militiamen for higher pay, which was also a protest the new appointment of Mohamed Khalifa Al-Sheikh to head the ministry.
“The two journalists were taken to the Al-Sad katiba (brigade), which claims to be responsible for the security of diplomatic missions” said RWB, “There they were interrogated at length about their activities and were promised an interview with the interior minister. After several hours, they were taken to another katiba in the Fernaj district, where they were again questioned at length about their work. They were finally released after a total of six hours without being given any explanation or an interview with the minister.”
RWB said that these cases were only part of growing militia aggression toward the media. It reminded the Libya government of its international and national obligations to protect the freedom of information, expression and opinion and it urged the authorities to protect all journalists working here.
It cautioned: “The development of free, independent, pluralist and transparent media is essential for the creation of democratic state in Libya.”