Media watchdog urges Libyan gov’t to release reporter

CAIRO (AP) — A media watchdog Friday urged Libyan authorities to immediately release a local journalist detained while covering recent anti-government protests in the capital Tripoli.

Libyan radio journalist Sami al-Sharif was detained Sunday by men in military uniforms affiliated with the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord, according to a statement released late Thursday by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Libyan authorities must immediately disclose whether they are holding journalist Sami al-Sharif and, if so, release him unconditionally,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “The Libyan Government of National Accord must do its utmost to protect journalists from harm, and ensure that government groups are not harassing, abducting, or obstructing the press.”

Protesters rallied in Tripoli and other western provinces over corruption and deteriorating economic conditions for several straight days starting Sunday and lasting into the week.

On Sunday, militiamen opened fire at protesters in Tripoli’s Martyrs Square, and dozens of protesters were arrested and their whereabouts were unknown, according to an eyewitness. Al-Sharif, who was covering the protests, was also arrested.

Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga acknowledged that a Tripoli-allied militia fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters and that an investigation was opened. He did not name the militias but dismissed them as “outlawed infiltrators,” adding that they had also had abducted some protesters, who were forcefully disappeared.

London-based Amnesty International said in a Wednesday statement that at least six protesters were kidnapped by armed men and several others were wounded.

These recent protests come against the backdrop of international efforts to bring an end to Libya’s civil war.

Since 2015, the oil-rich North African country has been divided between two governments, one in the east and another in the west. In April 2019, Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter, backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia, launched a military offensive on behalf of the eastern government to seize the capital Tripoli from the U.N.-backed GNA. The siege of Tripoli lasted for for nearly 14 months until GNA-allied militias could finally with Turkish military support push Hifter’s forces back to the east.

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