Libyan journalist jailed, fined for "defaming the judiciary"

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, November 21, 2014

A Tripoli court has sentenced a Libyan journalist to five years in jail and slapped him with a hefty fine for defamation and insulting the judiciary, his lawyer said Friday.

Amara Abdallah al-Khitabi, 68, editor-in-chief of the private al-Umma newspaper, was sentenced in absentia after publishing an online list of the names of 87 judges and prosecutors he claimed were corrupt.

Khitabi was arrested in December 2012, one month after the list appeared, before being granted conditional release in April 2013 on health grounds after he went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest.

According to his lawyer Ramadan Salam, the court delivered its verdict on August 17 when neither he nor Khitabi were present.

"My client wasn't informed of the judgment until this week," Salam told AFP.

He said that most courts in Tripoli were closed during August due to fighting between rival militant groups in the capital.

Salam said he would lodge an appeal and argued that Khitabi had been sentenced as "an act of revenge."

In addition to five years in jail, Khitabi was fined 250,000 Libyan dinars ($210,000) and banned from practicing journalism for the duration of his sentence, Salam added.

Rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have condemned Khitabi's trial.

Dozens of private newspapers and independent television channels emerged following the 2011 toppling of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi, who had stifled the media during his four-decade rule.

But the ongoing clashes and division in the war-torn country have put freedom of press and journalists’ lives highly at stake.

According to media watch Reporters without Borders (RSF), Tawfiq Ben Saud, a young journalist, was driving home in the eastern city of Benghazi back in September when gunmen stopped him and shot him dead.

Earlier that month, Tunisian journalists went missing in the Libyan region of Ajdabiya. The fate of investigative journalist Sofiene Chourabi and photographer Nadhir Ktari is still unknown.

The pair were on assignment in Libya where they seized by a militia in the eastern city of Brega on September 6 but later released, RSF said.

They disappeared again, probably seized by another armed group.

Libya is currently is grappling with a sharply deteriorating security as it is effectively controlled by former rebels who, alongside other NATO-backed groups, helped in the toppling Gaddafi but are now using their guns to fight for power.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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