Prominent journalist killed in Libya

New York, May 27, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder in Benghazi of a prominent Libyan journalist on Monday and calls on authorities to hold the killers to account. Muftah Bu Zeid, the editor-in-chief of Brnieq, a privately owned weekly, was well-known for his criticism of Islamist militias in the country, according to news reports. He reported receiving threats in the days before his death. 

For the past three years, Libyan authorities have struggled to rein in militias that were central to the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Competing militias have become a source of instability throughout the country, including in Benghazi, where Islamist militias in particular have been blamed for a series of kidnappings and assassinations, reports said. The risk of civil war heightened earlier this month when Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a prominent rebel leader and former Qaddafi officer, launched an offensive with the assistance of allied militias to rout armed Islamist groups, declaring he did not recognize the country’s Islamist-led parliament, the General National Congress.

Bu Zeid, 50, was shot dead in his car on Gamal Abdel Nasser Street while distributing Brnieq, according to news reports. Bu Zeid was shot in the head, stomach, and hands, Reuters reported citing an unnamed medical source. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing.

Bu Zeid frequently spoke out on TV talk shows against radical Islamists and Islamist militias in Benghazi. His last TV appearance was on Sunday on the privately owned TV station Libya Al-Ahrar, on which he discussed his recent meeting with Gen. Hifter and the threat of civil war.

Brnieq has been an important source of information on the role of Islamist militias and the general state of disorder in the country, according to news reports. On Thursday, armed men near the city of Misrata confiscated the Thursday issue of the paper from a vehicle distributing editions, Bu Zeid told journalists. The gunmen accused the paper of supporting Gen. Hifter’s campaign and publishing his image, Bu Zeid told journalists.  

On Friday, Bu Zeid told Al-Quds al-Arabi, a daily Arabic-language newspaper, that he had been threatened with death if he did not leave Libya in 24 hours. He did not identify the source of the threat and refused to leave the country, news reports said.

“We call for an immediate investigation to find Muftah Bu Zeid’s killers and hold them to account,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “His killing heightens our concern for the safety of all journalists working in Libya as the situation grows increasingly unstable.”

Hundreds of journalists and activists demonstrated on Monday in Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, protesting Bu Zeid’s murder, according to reports.