الأطراف الضالعة في العنف

Libya journalists struggle to cover bloody events despite the complexity of the situation

Tunisia, December -9

Libya has become an international battleground for proxy war fought between regional and international countries, making Libya one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the work of field correspondents and journalists working for news agencies and independent media.

However, most of these journalists still risk their lives to take footage or document an event, to cover the reality of the bloody conflict to the Libyan people and the world seeking to provide a clearer picture of what is happening on the ground, but they face an escalating danger in a very complex situation.

Since the outbreak of an armed offensive launched by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces on Tripoli on 4 April, at least 32 journalists have been targeted, according to the records of the Emergency Monitoring and Assistance Program at the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press, out of 54 cases of serious attacks documented between January and November. All of them are serious cases, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity because they are systematic practices and perhaps at the behest of warlords. These cases are noticeably high compared to the last two years.

Haftar and the targeting of media

In the east of Libya, military authorities under General Haftar exercise the most severe penalties, harassment, crushing independent voices or those opposed to authoritarian rule, part of these are the repressive security services inherited from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.

Numerous interviews conducted by researchers working with the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press with journalists and media workers in cities such as Benghazi, Tobruk and Al-Baydaa report widespread resentment over the systematic repression and tyranny they suffer from due to the practices of tribal and religious militias under the leadership of General Haftar’s forces as well as the internal security service of the parallel government.

Tracing and arrest incidents

“Internal security forces all journalists to fill out a form that includes the need to disclose and sign extensive personal information and force you not to conduct any interviews, reports or photograph anything except with their knowledge and identification and sometimes force you to publish certain press topics from expressing their perspective only ” says M.A, an independent journalist working for international news agencies.

She adds: “The ascendancy of the internal security authority reached a degree where they attend NGO activities and make copies of the participants’ lists, not to mention the arrest of many photojournalists or field correspondents, and sometimes beat them in front of everyone in several forums, and even force you to add them through your personal account on Facebook to monitor your writings and opinions”.

At the end of last October, the team of 218 channel was banned from media coverage in the city of Tobruk while the head of the interim government and its members attended a celebration in Tobruk. 218 channel Reporter Khaled al-Mahmoudi stated in one of his social media accounts “As soon as I entered the location according to the security arrangements, I presented my identity to enter the new civil registry headquarters as everyone was asked to present their IDs. He told me 218 Channel is banned from entering and he told me these are the instructions after I wanted to know the reason”.

The case of the journalist Ismail AbuZariba, who was arbitrarily arrested on 20 December 2018 by an armed group of internal security in the parallel government while covering a ceremony honoring the first generation of teachers in the education sector in the city of Ajdabiya was accused of working for Al-Naba’ a news channel “banned in the east of Libya” and enlisted in the terrorism list by Khalifa Haftar’s forces, he was then presented to a court and was accused of communicating with terrorist groups, and is still being held at the Kuwaifiya military prison without a defense lawyer.

Not to forget the incident of arbitrary arrest of Salihin Mohamed Zerouali a Libyan journalist working with Alghaima news agency on 22 July and his transfer to the Internal Security Agency in Benghazi to be released later on August 1, after a post he wrote on his Facebook page about the defection of a pilot belonging to the forces of General Haftar and landing his plane in the city of Medenine south Tunisia, this is the second time he has been arrested due to his Facebook posts.

The fate of the photojournalist Abdullah Boudabous from Benghazi forcibly disappeared since April 2017 in Kuwaifiya prison, according to several identical sources, is still unknown.

Terrible testimonies

Another journalist named here as H.I was arrested while on a family visit to the city of Benghazi last July, during which he was subjected to arbitrary detention by Tariq bin Ziyad militia, known for its strict religious orientations in the area of ​​Sidi Faraj, on the outskirts of Benghazi, where he was subjected to severe beatings and systematic physical torture throughout 20 days before he was transferred to the headquarters of the Internal Security Agency to be detained for more than three months in a small cell and the most severe forms of psychological, physical torture and persecution were practiced against him, forcing him to give false statements related to his relationship with different  electronic platforms and  funding sources for media outlets known to oppose the Libyan authorities in the east, before being released in the middle of last November.

Meanwhile, armed militias in Benghazi also arrested the cousin of Ahmed Mohamed Moftah Busnina, who was working as a cameraman for Al-Naba’ TV channel, and was not released until after the photographer, “Ahmed Bosnina” surrendered to the Internal Security last Wednesday. The reasons for the arrest of the cameraman who resigned from the channel in 2015 are not known yet and the fate of “Abu Senina” is unknown since July 31, according to the Libyan Organization for Independent Media.

Haftar’s attack exacerbated the tragic situation

The occurrence of arbitrary arrests and kidnappings has worsened and the risks and threats to physical safety have increased in light of the violent military clash in the outskirts of Tripoli, which increases the difficulty of the movement of journalists and requires the need to find more protection measures for field press crews.

Journalists affiliated with the Al-Ahrar Libya channel, Muhammad al-Qarraj and Muhammad al-Shaibani, were arrested in southern Tripoli by a militia affiliated with Haftar last May, before being released through international efforts and mediation after more than 20 days of arbitrary detention.

Jawhar Al-Jazawi a Libyan journalist was also subjected to severe beatings, arbitrary arrest, and the burning of his mobile phone by gunmen in the city of Misrata, after his depiction by videos he took of bombings of Haftar forces by foreign airstrikes on stores in the city on November the 18th.

The death of the American Associated Press correspondent, Muhammad Bin Khalifa on January 19, 2019, while covering the armed clashes in Sidi Al-Sayeh, south of Tripoli and the most recent incidents  of the injury of two journalists, Abdulaziz Issa and his colleague Walid Zarmouh, in Sirte after targeting the flight where they were on September 13, are examples of the dangers faced by journalists covering  the conflict.

The state of threats, intense surveillance, arrest, temporary detention, and often exposure to cases of intimidation or interrogation for long hours in the Libyan East differ from the conditions of journalists in the Libyan West who face threats related to their occupational safety during field coverage of events or are subjected to beatings by security elements in the Government of National Accord or Irregular allied groups.

Many journalists suffer from harsh conditions amid the overlapping parties of the conflict, independent voices have disappeared, media outlets have militated for the benefit of the contestants, and they have presented an unified media discourse that lacks objectivity and press values.

The Libyan Media fuels conflict

During the conflict situation in Libya, Libyan media no longer provides their news or information independently. The current lineup, especially after General Haftar launched his attack on the capital, Tripoli, at the beginning of last April. Many media outlets rely on their sources on the accounts of military rooms in social media, through communication and taking information from the party that each media supports, and thus most of its press materials have become submitted by the parties of the conflict, becoming the main feeder of the ongoing conflict situation, which is a dangerous shift in the form and role of the media in Libya and the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press previously warned of such a catastrophic slip in the Libyan scene.

On a separate note, The Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press intends to distribute bulletproof gear and vests in the coming period, in order to ensure greater protection for journalists during field coverage of the ongoing conflict.