Press phobia in Libya
An unprecedented media boom, that is how the media landscape in Libya is described after the change the country witnessed in 2011, when printed newspapers appeared in every corner, radios, and television stations were born with different agendas.
The overthrow of the Gaddafi regime cleared a space for young journalists and media organizations to operate in relative freedom and begin to learn the profession of press for the first time. However, this change also cleared the space for armed groups to operate freely and strengthen their influence through violence. Thus, now the greatest threat to journalists comes from different armed groups based outside the central control which penalizes journalists who they believe are acting against their interests.
Seven years later, the shift of media and press situation in Libya from an unprecedented boom to an unprecedented crisis, where practicing press became a risky adventure under the current struggle for power, leading to increased abuses against journalists, while these violations remain unpunished in an atmosphere that encourages the country to be evacuated from its journalists. This is what the international reports on press freedom in Libya indicators confirm in recent years.
A scary set back and unknown fate
In spite of the qualitative shift witnessed by the newspapers in Libya, and the huge number of independent institutions following 2011. The press sector has been rapidly declining, reaching its worst in recent years. That's what the support and promote press Authority, a governmental organization responsible for registering and supporting newspapers and print magazines, assures.
According to their press release the records states that until the beginning of 2014, there were 387 documented newspapers and magazines. While the amount dropped to only 4 by the beginning of 2018, just 3 newspapers and one magazine.
Officials of the Authority attribute this decline to their lack of resources, which prevents them to monitor and support these newspapers and magazines, plus the violations suffered by some of these newspapers or their journalists which led to the closure of many of them.
A threat had occurred to the freedom of press in the country, especially with the increasing number of exiled journalists who continue their work abroad or choose to quit this profession, which is becoming too risky. For those who choose to stay, they found themselves forced to trench in the line of one of the military or political parties drowned in the Libyan struggle crisis.
Exile is often the only way for Libyan journalists to continue their work, in the presence of these violations against journalists in Libya.
According to figures and statistics obtained by Reporters Without Borders. Since 2014, 83 journalists have been forced to flee Libya and practice their work in exile because of the abuses they suffered. 67 of them are still in exile today. While 16 of them returned home.
Media organization-wise, television channels operators prefer to have their headquarters outside of Libya, as their presence poses a real threat. After several attacks on channel headquarters or offices in Libya, some channels were forced to close permanently after repeated attacks, such as Al-Asima and Al-Dawliya (The International). The attacks on these two channels caused their permanent closure, while Al-Naba'a channel after it was broadcasting from Tripoli moved their studios to Turkey in 2017. This was after repeated attacks on the channel and the armed targeting against it.
Today Libya is witnessing an extraordinary migration of press organizations. The number of television channels broadcasting from outside Libya in early 2018 reached 7 channels, this is due to the lack of security guarantees or suitable working environment for these channels.
Journalists in Exile
“Three funny charges”, according to the description of the journalist Abdul Wahab al-Alam. The charges were attributed to him when an armed group affiliated to the National Reconciliation Government, as he described it in Tripoli, arrested him in late 2016. While he was conducting a report on the al-Ghazala book club, inside the University of Tripoli "B" (Nasser).
Abdelwahab says that an armed group arrested him from inside the University, and on the same day they took him to one of their centers near the university, without any clear or logical reason to do so.
They interrogated me for several hours before starting to beat and torture me
That's how the story of Abdul Wahab began with him being arrested, which lasted for eight days, Alalem said; They took me from the university and interrogated me for several hours about my media work, They also asked me about the names of some journalists and activists, reviewed some of my previous works, and charged me on each letter and word I wrote.
They especially focused on those articles and reports of legal nature, in which I try to highlight the cultural rights of the civil society organizations in Libya.
Abdel Wahab continues to talk about this incident saying that after so many strange questions, I was transferred to another place of detention where I was subjected to the worst forms of torture. They beat me with everything they had, they electrically shocked me, they continued to do so for the entire eight days I spent there.
Atheism, labor for Masons, subverting the minds of young people
These are the charges that were attributed to me during my detention. I did not understand how they came to the conclusion of all this nonsense, but I understand very well that dealing with human rights issues and talking about cultural activities in society is very disturbing to them.
After eight days they released me, but they did not stop following me and calling me frequently for 6 months, which was the time I spent in Libya before I left. During this period I left the press work because of fear on my safety, plus the media organization I was working for asked me to stop for the risk of my other colleagues to be prosecuted.
After six months away from any media activity, I left Libya for Tunisia, which was the only option available to me to continue my journalistic work. I had a great desire to return to work, especially after all that time I spent away.
I had some difficulties at first usually financial ones, but then I managed to get back to work again. I got a job in Tunisia with a Libyan media Organization. I also went back to writing and publishing newspaper articles as before.
This was the only way to practice journalism again
Getting out of Libya was the only option for me to return to my life in the field of journalism. Although I received several calls from the same group that arrested me in Libya, they asked me what I was doing now and why I left Libya along with other questions.
It was an attempt to practice pressure and stress and to send a message that they can reach me even if I was in Tunisia. At first, I was a bit cautious, but over time I realized I should not care about them, I have to continue my work freely so that's what I did and what I am now.
I see that my decision to continue working in this area should not be limited or restricted by red lines. The journalist is responsible for what he publishes to people. So I decided to continue working from outside Libya since you can not continue working from inside in the presence of red lines restricting press work.
Kidnapping, murder and forced detention have led journalists to be cautious during press coverage. Many journalists in Libya continue to work from within Libya, but with great caution, as restrictions are often imposed that undermine their work on the ground.
Journalist Mohammed al-Na'ili, who works as a reporter for Xinhua, told us about the abduction he had suffered in late October 2015 by an unidentified armed group for 30 days.
"I was near my residence in Airport Road when they took me at gunpoint," he said. "I could not identify them, nor their reason to target me." All I knew was that they hated my job and considered me a spy for foreign countries, Because of my work for non-local news agencies, they made strange and funny accusations, for example: they were saying that I gave information to the enemy to shoot down a helicopter carrying military commanders from the western region (here they meant the vertical plane that fell In "Maya" area dated 2015-10-27).
During my detention, I was subjected to the worst forms of physical and verbal abuse
Al-Naeli continues: After my release, I went through difficult periods to overcome this ordeal. As time went by I resumed my work, but this time with great caution. The environment which we work here in Libya requires us to be cautious and not to address all issues. It is very natural that journalists here do not produce any controversial work that is contrary to the interests of the groups that control the geographical area in which the journalist works.
The abduction was not the only attack by the armed groups
In the past, I have been subjected to numerous attacks by armed groups, especially when it comes to covering areas of conflict or events of a controversial nature that do not appeal to those in power here. This made me work very carefully and under great pressure. I have moved away from coverage in places of conflict or coverage of political issues.
I do not like to work under all these restrictions imposed on me, either directly or indirectly, but this is the only option for me to continue working in this field.
Libya is one of the most dangerous countries in the press profession. The armed conflict and political division that has been taking place since 2011 have caused them to be the first victims of this conflict between the warring parties in various Libyan cities.
Reporters Without Borders is an international organization defending the freedom of press and journalists around the world, confirms that according to its annual reports on Libya since 2011 and until the end of 2016, more than 331 violations of journalists' rights have been registered Mostly with impunity.
According to statistics we received from Reporters Without Borders, recorded between 2011-2014 (168) cases of violations against journalists in Libya.
Between 2014 and 2016. there were about 163 cases of violations, the result in total between 2011 and 2016 is about 331 case of violations against journalists as follows:
In the World Press Freedom Index, which is overseen by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In 2018 Libya was ranked 162th out of the 180 countries covered by this category. Libya has been classified as one of the most dangerous countries in press freedom and among the countries in black, which is a sign of the low level of freedom enjoyed by journalists. This confirms Libya's serious indicator of freedom of Media and Press in recent years.
The organization described in its latest report that Libya suffers from a state of emptying of journalists who suffer from repeated violations, which often made them choose exile in order to preserve their safety and to exercise their work more freely.