Syria: Amnesty International Calls for Immediate Release of Syrian Journalist and Brother Held in Libya

Press Release
April 5, 2011

Syria: Amnesty International Calls for Immediate Release of Syrian Journalist and Brother Held in Libya

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Amnesty International Calls for Immediate Release of Syrian Journalist and Brother Held in Libya

 Journalist Appeared on State Television in Aggressive Interrogation

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – Amnesty International is calling today for the immediate and unconditional release of a Syrian journalist and her brother who have been detained in Libya for more than a week. The organization said Rana al-Aqbani, the journalist, is a prisoner of conscience and at risk of torture. Al-Aqbaqni was shown on Libyan state television in a chilling interrogation last week. Armed men entered her home at 3 a.m. on March 28, seizing her and her brother, Hani al-Aqbani, without providing any reason for their arrest, and confiscating mobile phones, computers and documents. She is accused of "communicating with enemy bodies during war time." They have since been detained incommunicado.

Rana al-Aqbani’s relatives in Syria did not know that she was arrested until last Thursday when they saw video footage of her being interviewed on Libyan state television while in detention. During the interview, which was aggressive and conducted like a form of interrogation, it became clear that she is being detained solely for her views regarding the need to change the political system in Libya and her contacts with people in parts of the country controlled by those opposed to Libyan leader Colonel M’uammar al-Gaddafi. She said during the interview that she had been told by an "officer" that she is accused of "communicating with enemy bodies during war time.” It remains unclear why Rana al-Aqbani’s brother was arrested with her.

During the interview, the television presenter blamed al-Aqbani and "those like her" for the recent airstrikes on Libya by coalition forces, accusing them of spreading rumours and disseminating inaccurate information about the Libyan authorities’ repression of popular protests and other human rights violations. It also became clear during the interview that her arrest came after "recordings," apparently official bugging of her private telephone conversations.

The interview, translated and with commentary by an Amnesty International researcher, may be viewed at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWZN4ciRPM0

Despite the aggressive nature of the interview, Rana al-Aqbani admitted that she had been in contact with people who oppose Libya’s political system and said she supported the aspirations of the peaceful protesters who had taken to the streets to call for change. She said: "We got enthusiastic after the revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt; and we hoped that change would come…change for the best…[for Libya] to be transformed into a country of institutions".

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Rana al-Aqbani has been living in Libya since she was nine years old; and has worked in journalism for the past year. She was employed at the Libya Press agency, an outlet of the al-Ghad Corporation affiliated with Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, until some 22 journalists were briefly arrested in November 2010; the agency’s office was shut down in December 2010. Most recently, she has worked for the state Al-Shams newspaper, but has not been going to work since the unrest started in mid-February.

Many people have been subjected to enforced disappearance by forces loyal to al-Gaddafi since the current unrest began in Libya in mid-February 2011, including dozens who were arrested and detained in eastern Libya and are believed to have been transferred to the Tripoli area that are controlled by al-Gaddafi forces. Others have disappeared in Tripoli or other areas controlled by al-Gaddafi. These detainees and disappeared persons are at grave risk of torture and other serious human rights abuses.