Media watchdog attacks Libya press freedom

Published Monday, October 1, 2012

Freedom of information has been under attack in Libya since the General National Congress election on July 7, leading media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement on its website Monday.

The group specifically lists visa problems for journalists, filming bans and arbitrary arrest and deportation as signs that the post-Gaddafi era Libya may disappoint those who had high hopes for media freedom.

The group says a number of foreign journalists have complained over detention, deportation and other restrictions while reporting, led both by state authorities as well as non-commissioned militias.

Among those that shared their stories included Sharron Ward, a British journalist and filmmaker who told RSF that she and her Libyan interpreter were reporting on displaced persons on July 19 in Janzour, a town 12 kilometers outside Tripoli, when they were held for almost eight hours by the state's Supreme Security Committee (SSC).

Ward was held again by the same authorities from July 21 to July 23 before being deported.

The authorities had confiscated her passport, camera and other equipment and threatened to have her arrested, but was eventually released after the British Embassy intervened. The SSC kept her camera.

The SSC is reported to also harass local journalists.

Nabil Shebani, managing director of Al-Assema TV, told RSF that the security body summoned him for questioning over his station's coverage of the destruction of Sufi shrines in late-August.

He was reportedly held for about 10 hours then released.

The RSF report comes amid heightened tensions in Libya after a September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead including the US ambassador Chris Stevens in the wake of a US-produced low-budget film that mocks the Prophet Mohammad. An Islamic militia is thought to have coordinated the attack.

The country has been struggling to maintain stability following an uprising backed by a NATO aerial bombing campaign that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi last year. Gaddafi was captured and killed last October.

Armed militias who joined forces to topple the regime have been in control over many parts of the country since the uprising despite the new government's push to either integrate them into state security forces, or disband them altogether.

But the new RSF report shows that the militias are not alone over the clampdown on media freedom in the country. The report may be an initial indication that the new government could follow in the footsteps of other Arab governments that impose strict press restrictions.

(Al-Akhbar)

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