New York, March 4, 2011–Today in Libya, authorities prevented foreign journalists invited to report in the country from covering the crackdown on protesters in the capital, according to news reports. In southern Iraq, anti-riot police attacked at least five local journalists covering protests in Basra, according to news reports.
Hundreds of anti-Qaddafi protesters gathered in Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli, after Muslim prayers, but security forces quickly dispersed them with tear gas and live ammunition, according to international news reports. Official minders told foreign journalists to remain in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli this morning, preventing them from covering demonstrations, according to news reports. Around 130 foreign journalists are reportedly staying in the hotel. The authorities finally agreed to allow the reporters to leave but only if they went on a government-led tour, press reports said. Foreign journalists attempting to reach the site were stopped and aggressively searched by militiamen loyal to Qaddafi, said Borzou Daragahi, who is reporting in Tripoli for the Los Angeles Times.
“It is absurd that Libyan authorities should invite foreign journalists to cover the country and then prevent them from doing so on the pretext of security,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We call on the authorities in Tripoli to allow journalists to cover events freely.”
Government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said that the restrictions on journalists’ movements are due to security reasons. “We have intelligence that Al-Qaeda gunmen are in the city waiting for you,” the Wall Street Journal reported Ibrahim as saying. “You can criticize us but we will not allow Tripoli to become the next Baghdad.”
Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi said on Wednesday in a three-hour long speech said that “Libya doesn’t like foreign correspondents. They shouldn’t even know about the weather forecasts in Libya, because we are suspicious,” the New York Times reported.
Internet services and phone connections in Tripoli were sporadic today, according to news reports.
In Basra, anti-riots forces beat Haidar al-Mansouri, the head of the Journalists’ Syndicate branch in Basra, according to Al-Sumaria News website; Nabil al-Jourani, an Associated Press photographer; Mohamed al-Rased, a cameraman for Al-Alam satellite TV channel; Muntazar al-Amer, reporter for Al-Mustaqbal online news agency; and Shehab Ahmed, correspondent for Baghdad News Agency while they were covering demonstrations. Al-Rased, al-Jourani, and al-Amer were taken to the hospital with various injuries. Al-Amer suffered a broken arm. Freelancer Majid al-Brekan told CPJ that officers appeared to specifically target the journalists.
At least 700 people protested today in downtown Basra against unemployment, shortage of water, electricity, and basic services, according to news reports.