Round-up: Journalists under threat in Libya

A British journalist has gone missing and two other reporters have apparently been taken into custody while reporting on the Libyan conflict.

The Press Association reports that Dave Clark, 38, last checked in with his editor at Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Friday evening.

His colleague Roberto Schmidt and Getty Images photographer Joe Raedle are understood to be being held by Gaddafi’s forces.

Denis Hiault, AFP’s London bureau chief, said:

“It’s now been three days so we are pretty worried. We have quite a few people on the ground trying to find anything about their whereabouts. We don’t know where they are, if they have been arrested or what.”

The trio are the latest in a worrying number of journalists who have been subjected to imprisonment or worse while reporting from what is now an international warzone.

Earlier on Monday, the New York Times announced that four of its staff had been released six days after their capture in the city of Ajdabiya.

Times’ Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, and British born reporter and videographer Stephen Farrell were – like a lot of western journalists – operating without visas and had entered the country via neighbouring Egypt. From the Times:

“After the New York Times reported having lost contact with the journalists last Tuesday, officials with the Qaddafi government pledged that if they had been detained by the government’s military forces they would be located and released unharmed.”

In an emotional letter to the Times’ staff, editor Bill Keller said the paper was “indebted” to the Turkish government who played an instrumental part in getting the journalists out of Libya and into Tunisia.

Making reference to the Times’ recently-announced paywall, Keller said the capture and subsequent release was proof enough that “boots-on-the-ground journalism” is “worth paying for”:

We’re overjoyed to report that our four journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday morning are free and have arrived safely in Tunisia. The Libyan government informed us through various channels Thursday afternoon that Anthony, Tyler, Lynsey and Steve were in Tripoli, in the custody of the Libyan authorities, and would be freed soon. The four were allowed to speak to their families by phone Thursday night. Because of the volatile situation in Libya, we’ve kept our enthusiasm and comments in check until they were out of the country, but now feels like a moment for celebration. And before long we’ll all know the details of their experience. 

And, in a week when we have dared to declare that the work we do is worth paying for, this is a reminder that real, boots-on-the-ground journalism is hard and sometimes dangerous work. To the many colleagues who are deployed in hard places — the battleground streets of North Africa and the Middle East, the battered landscape of Japan — we implore you to be careful.

An Al Jazeera cameraman became the first journalist fatality of the conflict when he was killed while working near Benghazi on the 12th March. Al Jazeera correspondent Tony Birtley said:

“His is an extension of the campaign against Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera Arabic particularly – because everyone here watches Al Jazeera Arabic. Their work has been heroic, and it has been a great shock to lose a colleague.”

Al Jazeera now say four more of their journalists are missing.

A team reporting for BBC Arabic were “beaten with fists, knees and rifles, hooded and subjected to mock executions by Libyan troops and secret police” before being released on the 10th March.

Chris Cobb-Smith, Feras Killani and Goktay Koraltan were all detained after being stopped at a roadblock. Describing the ordeal, Cobb-Smith said:

“We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line – facing the wall. I looked and I saw a plainclothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone’s neck. I saw him and he screamed at me. Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed.”

The BBC later received an apology from Libyan authorities.

On 2 March, the Guardian’s staff correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was captured in the coastal town of Sabratha before being detained in a prison near the capital, Tripoli. He was released 14 days later. The highly-respected Iraqi-born journalist has worked for the Guardian since 2004, covering many conflicts around the world. Editor Alan Rusbridger said:

“We are delighted that Ghaith has been released and is safely out of Libya. We are grateful to all those who worked behind the scenes to help free him after his ordeal.”

Young Libyan web journalist Mohammed al-Nabbous was killed in an attack by pro-Gaddafi forces in Benghazi on Saturday. France24 report that the 28-year-old was reportedly hit by a sniper. His pregnant wife broadcast the news on al-Nabbous’ site Libya Al-Hurra (meaning Free Libya).

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