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Al-Jazeera journalist killed; several journalists detained, beaten, missing

After inviting foreign journalists into Libya, pro-Muammar Qaddafi forces have made every effort to impose a news blackout by confining journalists to their hotels, and assaulting and detaining those who try to report on anti-regime protests and violence against civilians. And as Qaddafi loyalists battle insurgents, deadly attacks on journalists have increased, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members. An Al-Jazeera journalist was killed on 12 March in an ambush on the outskirts of Benghazi, and three BBC journalists were detained for 21 hours and tortured.

Al-Jazeera's popularity in the region and its relentless and heroic coverage of events in Libya have made it a target of the regime. Ali Hassan al-Jaber, a cameraman for the Qatari-based satellite station, had covered an opposition demonstration and was on his way back to Benghazi when he and his crew were attacked by gunmen. Al Jaber died in hospital. Another journalist was injured. In response, thousands of protesters came out on Saturday in Benghazi shouting pro-Al-Jazeera slogans and carrying Qatari flags, says CPJ. Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Hurra broadcasts have been jammed.

Furthermore, at least three journalists have disappeared since they contributed to Al-Jazeera's Libyan coverage in February. CPJ reports four "New York Times" journalists missing since Tuesday, and at least six other journalists missing as of this week.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a correspondent for London's "Guardian" newspaper, was detained by the Libyan Foreign Ministry last week, after reporting on heavy fighting near the coastal city of Zawiya. He has been released.

Journalist Andrei Netto, reporting for Brazil's "O Estado de S. Paolo" was jailed for eight days in the city of Sabrata; he was beaten and kept blindfolded. Released on 10 March, he was told to leave Libya the next day.

Meanwhile, three BBC journalists were released on 8 March after being detained and brutally assaulted for 21 hours. Two of the journalists were kicked and punched with fists, boots and knees. All three were subjected to mock executions. While in detention, the journalists met Libyan detainees who had been savagely beaten. One British BBC journalist, who was not beaten, said he heard screams of pain from the second floor of his barrack.

Foreign journalists trying to cover protesters gathering at a mosque in Tripoli were rounded up by officials and returned to their hotels on 11 March. Journalists are constantly monitored and often detained for hours by security and military forces. On 8 March, assailants threw a grenade into the Ouzo Hotel in the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi. The hotel is the main residence for journalists, but fortunately no one was injured or killed.

"As the country becomes ever more difficult to report from, what is happening to ordinary Libyan civilians is ever more effectively being censored. And at some point, by our very presence, in being ineffective we will become accomplices in that censorship," wrote Peter Beaumont, reporting for the "Guardian" from Tripoli.

There has also been a terrifying escalation of arrests and disappearances of Libyans in Tripoli, with heavily armed security forces deployed throughout the city, reports Human Rights Watch. "Security forces have arrested scores of anti-government protesters, suspected government critics, and those alleged to have provided information to international media and human rights organisations. Some detainees have apparently been subjected to torture." In this crackdown on dissent, security forces have often opened fire on peaceful protesters in Tripoli, killing and injuring an unknown number. And wounded protesters are being hunted down in hospitals and arrested.

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