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Independent news sources suspended; journalists arrested

Libyan authorities are waging a war on journalists critical of the regime's abuses, report Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In late January, authorities slammed press freedom by blocking several independent and opposition websites, and suspending the print-runs of two privately owned newspapers. Last week, four radio journalists that report on corruption were arrested.

As of 24 January, at least seven websites that routinely publish articles on "sensitive political subjects, including human rights abuses by the Libyan government," with editors based abroad and journalists in Tripoli and Benghazi, were blocked, says Human Rights Watch.

In addition, YouTube is no longer available after the posting of videos showing demonstrations by the relatives of prisoners killed in Abu Salim prison in 1996 and videos of family members of Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi, Libya's leader, at parties.

But Libyan bloggers, journalists and rights defenders are fighting back with an online campaign on Facebook, called "No to the Policy of Blocking Websites in Libya," and have shared proxy servers to allow access to the blocked web sites, reports Human Rights Watch.

The first privately owned newspapers since al-Gaddafi came to power, "Oea" and "Quryna", were launched by a company connected to al-Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, in 2007. They were forced to stop publishing in January after the General Press Authority refused to continue printing, saying their bills had not been paid. On 21 January, the newspapers announced they would publish online only. The publications have covered corruption, the lack of independence of the judiciary, demonstrations by families of prisoners killed in the Abu Salim massacre, and criticism of the security forces failure to respect the rule of law.

However, the editor of "Oea" told Human Rights Watch on 3 February that they would begin printing smaller sections of the newspaper, in what appears to be a small resolution.

In connection to this crackdown, four Radio Benghazi journalists were arrested on 16 February and released the next day, reports RSF. They worked on a programme that exposed administrative and financial corruption in Benghazi. The radio station has also covered the Abu Salim prison massacre. The station's manager has suspended the programme and fired the four journalists.

"The government is returning to the dark days of total media control," said Human Rights Watch.

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