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CPJ alarmed by news agency's decision to shut down operation in Libya

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, December 9, 2010 - Authorities in Libya must ensure the safety of Libya Press reporters and stop harassing the private news agency, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ is alarmed by the agency's decision to shut down its Tripoli office and leave Libya because security officials have said they "do not want any presence of the agency inside Libya," the agency said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday.

Libya Press announced that it has closed its Tripoli office and will resume work from several foreign capitals. The agency added that it informed its reporters that it "cannot offer protection for them because of intensified security harassment they face." The statement said the agency's management was shocked "at the security escalation, the deliberate restrictions against Libya Press, and the way reporters were treated as if they were members of a terrorist cell."

In November, the Internal Security Agency detained 22 Libya Press reporters and media workers. The staff members were released after a few days in custody when Muammar Qaddafi intervened and ordered their release.

"Libya Press' decision to leave the country because of arrests and harassment illustrates the difficulties of conducting reporting that is not in lockstep with the government's official positions," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Libyan authorities must ensure protection for reporters and end their harassment. We believe that the Libyan government can, and should, take concrete steps that would convince Libya Press to reverse its decision."

Libya Press is a part of al-Ghad Media Group, which is owned by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi. Saif al-Islam is perceived as a reformist inside Libya and has repeatedly clashed with the conservative old guard. Libya Press was the first private news agency to be launched in 2010 after forty years of news monopoly by the government-owned Jamahiriya News Agency, according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the pan-Arab daily based in London. It began its work in July 2010, after six months of delays in acquiring the necessary licenses.

According to multiple news reports, the crackdown on the agency and its reporters is a clear sign of an internal power struggle among opposing factions within the ruling elite. Earlier this year, two newspapers, Oae and Quryna, both part of al-Ghad Media Group, were suspended after publishing articles critical of the government, according to Reuters. Their online components continued to post articles though. Both newspapers returned to the newsstands in July. Oae was suspended again in November.

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