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Gaddafi secures release of journalists

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, reformist son of the Libyan President, who founded the media group for which the arrested journalists work
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, reformist son of the Libyan President, who founded the media group for which the arrested journalists work

A group of at least 20 Libyan journalists arrested as part of an apparent power struggle in the ruling elite between conservatives and the reformist son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been released on Muammar's instructions, report the Arabic Network of Human Rights information (ANHRI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

ANHRI and RSF say the roundup followed an editorial published last week in the news agency Libya Press and the daily paper "Oea" - both outlets controlled by Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - that called for Gaddafi's opponents and Libyans living in exile abroad to return to the country and take an active role in politics.

According to news reports, Saif al-Islam is seen as a possible successor to his father but has been waging a turf war against powerful conservatives. He was a key figure in normalising Libya's relations with the United States, and has been actively promoting the adoption of a constitution.

Ten journalists were arrested in the capital, Tripoli, on 5 November. Fresh arrests continued elsewhere in the country in the following days. Among them were two women journalists from Egypt and Tunisia. Libyan officials have so far not offered any public explanation for the journalists' detention.

Authorities also suspended printing of "Oea" last week, and shut down critical websites Libya al-Yom and the Libyan League for Human Rights, run by activists living abroad.

RSF says Gaddafi's plea to demand the release of the journalists was a ploy before the country's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council this week. "The orders for their release unfortunately reflect Col. Gaddafi's desire to stay in power while normalising political relations with Libya's economic partners rather than any consideration for freedom of expression," said RSF.

RSF contributed to the UPR by releasing a damning assessment of the press freedom situation in Libya. In its 2010 press freedom index, RSF ranked Libya 160th out of 178 countries.

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