Armed group ‘detains’ two Libyan journalists

Tripoli: Two Libyan journalists covering clashes near Tripoli for a private TV channel have been detained by a group loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, their employer and Reporters Without Borders said Friday.

The two journalists were seized on Thursday and their fate remains unknown, the global media watchdog and local TV channel Libya al-Ahrar said Friday.

Libya al-Ahrar in a statement expressed its “deep concern” over their disappearance, saying it had lost contact with the two journalists — who it named as Mohamad al-Gurj and Mohamad al-Shibani — on Thursday afternoon as they covered fighting.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive against the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) on April 4.

Forces loyal to the internationally recognised GNA have since launched a counter-offensive, leading to a stalemate on the southern outskirts of the capital.

Libya al-Ahrar, a pro-GNA channel, said the journalists “were taken by elements loyal to” Haftar.

“They were taken to an unknown location”, the channel added.

Libya al-Ahrar was established in 2011, in opposition to then dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was that year deposed and killed in a NATO-backed uprising.

The oil-rich country has since descended into chaos, characterised by a bewildering array of militias — some aligned with the unity government, others tied to Haftar, and some with no fixed loyalty — competing for influence, along with external powers.

Reporters Without Borders said the two journalists were “detained by the Al Kaniat brigade, which is affiliated to Gen. Haftar’s army” in Assaidia region, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of the capital.

The media watchdog added it had “been told that they are being held in Tarhuna, a town 80 km southeast of Tripoli that is the centre of Gen. Haftar’s operations in western Libya”.

Both Reporters Without Borders and Libya al-Ahrar demanded the immediate release of the journalists.

“We appeal to all the armed forces and militias with a presence on the ground to respect international law and to not target the media,” said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of the watchdog’s North Africa desk.

The UN mission in Libya called the “abduction” of the two journalists the latest example of the “threats and attacks” faced by media workers in the country.

“We cannot let the truth become a casualty of the fighting,” UN envoy Ghassan Salame said in the statement.