Two journalists abducted and two TV channels forced off the air in Libya

New York, August 21, 2014 — Two journalists were abducted in Libya on Tuesday, and the government shut down broadcasts of two state-run television stations after one was taken over by militants and the other took an anti-government line, according to news reports.

Osama Rashid and Mohammed al-Saaidi, directors for the state-run Libya International Channel Television, were abducted by an unknown militant group at a checkpoint in Janzour, west of Tripoli, according to news reports and the Libyan Center for Press Freedom.

“Attacks on journalists and news outlets will only add to the rumors and mistrust that are violently tearing up Libyan society,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on whoever is holding Osama Rashid and Mohammed al-Saaidi to release them immediately.”

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the Libyan Center for Press Freedom quoted witnesses who said that the directors had been heading home after work when a militant group stopped and searched them. The directors were abducted when the group saw identification showing that they worked at Libya International Channel Television, the witnesses said.

Alassema television channel reported on its Facebook page that the two directors were abducted by the militant group Forsan Janzour (Janzour’s Knights). Although the group had criticized the channel for allegedly fabricating news about missile attacks on the city, Forsan Janzour denied on its Facebook page that it had abducted the men.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction of Rashid and al-Saaidi, and their whereabouts are unknown.

On Tuesday, in a separate incident, the Libyan government stopped broadcasts on two state-owned TV channels. The Media Ministry said that Al-Wataniya, a news website and TV channel run by the interim government, had been taken over by Islamists on August 4. Broadcasts from Libya al-Rasmiya — the official voice of the Libyan parliament — were stopped because the channel’s boss, Nizam Tayyari, had been following an anti-government line, according to the Libya Herald.

The government’s action comes after Tarek al-Huni resigned from his position as director of the state-run news agency Al-Wataniya on the day of the takeover, claiming that he could not work freely and independently after al-Nawasi militants took control of the news agency, Al-Wataniya reported on its Facebook page. The militants, led by Abdul Rauf Kara, had ordered staff not to broadcast the first day of proceedings for Libya’s new Parliament on August 4, according to news reports and the channel’s Facebook page.

The channels were closed after a government request was made to Nilesat, a satellite broadcasting company owned by the Egyptian authorities, according to news reports.

The abductions and takeover at the state-run television station are the latest in a series of worsening developments for press freedom in Libya, according to CPJ research. Air raids over the capital, Tripoli, on Sunday that targeted positions held by militias from Misrata have also caused the security crisis in the country to intensify.

At least two journalists and three media workers affiliated with the privately owned Albarqa TV station are still missing after they were abducted at a checkpoint nearly two weeks ago. Correspondent Younis al-Mabrok al-Moghazy, news director Mohammed Galal, administrative worker Khaled al-Sabihi, and security guards Yousef al-Jmoudy and Abdul Salam al-Maghrabi were taken by a militant group affiliated with Islamists in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk on August 4.