New York, February 27, 2012–Libyan authorities must seek the release of two British journalists who have been held in Tripoli by a local militia for the past six days, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On Tuesday, the Saraya Swehli militia seized Nicholas Davies-Jones and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, freelance journalists who often work for Iran’s Press TV, according to news reports. News accounts said the militia refused to transfer the journalists to state authorities, and the commander of the militia, Faraj Swehli, denied Human Rights Watch access to the journalists, the group reported.
The journalists were driving late at night in Tripoli and taking photographs, which militia members deemed suspicious, a militia official told Human Rights Watch. The militia later accused the journalists of not having “proper immigration papers,” HRW reported. Local militias in Libya operate outside the law and often detain people at whim, putting them at odds with the Libyan government, according to news reports. Even under the new Libyan government, international journalists have experienced difficulties in obtaining visas to the country, CPJ research shows.
“Libyan officials should enforce the rule of law and immediately secure the release of Nicholas Davies-Jones and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson and their driver,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “In a free society, militias aren’t allowed to go around detaining people who are taking photographs.”
The journalists’ driver and two unnamed Libyans, whose relationship with the journalists was unclear, were also detained, news reports said. The five detainees were being held in the Girls’ Training Military College in Tripoli, news reports said.
The British Embassy was providing consular service to both journalists, the BBC reported.