Libyan militia must release media workers detained while covering elections

Two media professionals from the city of Misratah detained by militias from Beni Walid while covering the landmark Libyan national elections on 7 July should be immediately and unconditionally released, said Amnesty International today.Reporter and cameraman Abdelkader Fusuk and cameraman Youssef Baadi were covering the elections in the cities of Mizda and Nesma, some 160km south of Tripoli, for the Misratah-based Tobakets TV and radio station, when reportedly seized by militias from Beni Walid on their way back to Misratah. They are believed to be held at an unofficial detention centre in Beni Walid. 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.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. Media reports suggest that their captors demanded the release of detainees from Beni Walid held in Misratah as a condition for the media workers’ freedom.  “Guaranteeing freedom of expression was a key goal of the ‘17 February 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 Programme at Amnesty International.“If Beni Walid militias had concerns about their behaviour, they should have referred them to the authorities and not taken the law into their own hands. They should certainly not use them as pawns to address their regional tensions with Misratah.”Youssef Baadi’s father told Amnesty International that his son called home, saying that he was being well-treated, but that he has yet to be told the exact reasons for his detention. On 10 July, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mostafa Abou Shakour, condemned Abdelkader Fusuk and Youssef Baadi’s detention, calling for their immediate release and stressing that the government alone is responsible for law enforcement. His condemnation followed a public outcry and threats by local Misratah armed militias to free the media workers by force. It is reported that armed forces from Misratah are preparing for a possible assault if the Thursday deadline, set of 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. 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,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. 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 the to-be-elected authorities to prioritize the respect of human rights and the establishment of the rule of law. The city of Beni Walid was among the last pro-Gaddafi strongholds during last year’s uprising, falling to National Transitional Council forces on 17 October 2011.