Since the attack Sept. 11 on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, Libyan authorities have made it more difficult for international journalists to work in the country.
Alarmed at the treatment, Reporters Without Borders, a journalism advocacy group based in Paris, earlier this week cited a wide range of problems journalists face in Libya that it said indicated a “decline in respect for freedom of information.” Those issues include “visa problems, filming bans, arbitrary arrest and deportation.” It traced the decline to the election of the Congress in July.
The group reserved special attention for the actions of the Supreme Security Committee – the amalgamation of militias and security forces that serves as Libya’s military – calling the committee’s recent behavior “highhanded” and “disturbing.”
“We call on the new government, above all the Interior Ministry, to investigate these incidents and to return the equipment that was arbitrarily confiscated from these journalists," the group said in a statement released Monday.
The Supreme Security Committee’s actions also have come under scrutiny in the Benghazi consulate attack and in the destruction in August of several religious sites affiliated with the moderate Sufi strain of Islam.
The harassment of foreign journalists, however, began well before the consulate attack. The British filmmaker and journalist Sharron Ward and her Libyan interpreter were detained and interrogated for eight hours in July as they filmed and interviewed residents of a displaced-persons camp in Janzour, about eight miles west of Tripoli.
“I had a proper journalist visa as well as all the necessary Libyan press credentials. I was filming openly at the Janzour camp and had been there all afternoon. We were not stopped or checked at any time on entering the camp,” said Ward, who also had obtained permission to film at the camp. “Nonetheless we ended up being detained by members of the SSC.”
She was released eventually, but she said the security committee kept her camera equipment, press passes and passport.
Photographer James Lawler Duggan, who was on assignment for McClatchy at the time, reported that he and two television journalists had a similar run-in with militia members in the city of Misrata. The militia members confiscated the photographers’ equipment and confined them in a cell with prisoners said to be supporters of the late Moammar Gadhafi. They were released three hours later, with an apology, but not before their Libyan interpreter had been intensely interrogated separately.