(New York) — Amnesty International today called on Libyan officials to immediately and unconditionally release two journalists who have been detained by militias since covering the national elections on July 7.
Reporter and cameraman Abdelkader Fusuk and cameraman Youssef Baadi were covering the elections in the cities of Mizda and Nesma, about 100 miles south of Tripoli, for the Misratah-based Tobakets TV and radio station, when they reportedly were seized by militias from the city of Beni Walid on their way back to Misratah.
In video footage that appeared after their detention, an unidentified man is heard accusing them of entering a military zone in a military vehicle without permission. However, according to information available to Amnesty International, the two were travelling in a pick-up truck belonging to the head of the Tobakets station and had their press identity cards and accreditation.
"Guaranteeing freedom of expression was a key goal of the 'February 17 Revolution.' It is inconceivable that two media workers are detained simply for carrying out their work and entering a city without authorization," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.
The media professionals are now believed to be held at an unofficial detention center in Beni Walid. Baadi's father told Amnesty International that his son called home, explaining he is being treated well, but has not been informed of the exact reasons for his detention.
Media reports suggest their captors demanded the release of detainees from Beni Walid held in Misratah as a condition for the media workers' freedom.
"If Beni Walid militias had concerns about their behavior, they should have referred them to the authorities and not taken the law into their own hands," Sahraoui said. "They should certainly not use them as pawns to address their regional tensions with Misratah."
On Tuesday, following a public outcry and threats by local Misratah armed militias to free the media workers by force, Deputy Prime Minister Mostafa Abou Shakour condemned Fusuk and Baadi's detention, calling for their immediate release and stressing that the government alone is responsible for law enforcement. It is reported that armed forces from Misratah are preparing for a possible assault if the Thursday deadline, set for their release, is not met.
"While Abdelkader Fusuk and Youssef Baadi's continual detention is unacceptable, the use of force against the whole town of Beni Walid is not the solution," Sahraoui said. "This will only exacerbate the situation and lead to more human rights abuses. Such an assault would endanger the local population, and sow the seeds of further regional tension."
Last week, Amnesty International published a report, Libya: Rule of law or rule of militias, condemning the widespread human rights abuses committed by armed militias, including arbitrary arrest and torture, and calling on elected authorities to prioritize the respect of human rights and the establishment of the rule of law.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.