Libyan journalist abducted, threatened

An unidentified group of armed men abducted Aboubaker Al-Bizanti, a producer for Art Media Solutions (AMS), which produces local news coverage for the broadcaster Libya Al-Ahrar TV and other television stations, the night of August 7, 2016, and released him the following day, according to the journalist, his colleagues, and Libyan news websites.

Speaking to the Committee to Protect Journalists by telephone after his release, Al-Bizanti said that he, two of his colleagues from AMS, and another journalist, Mohamed Karifa, a producer and presenter for the news website Ajwa, were in the Bab Ben Ghesir district south of Tripoli interviewing young people about the political crisis and violent conflict that has embroiled the country since 2011, when they stopped at a traffic light.

Karifa told the CPJ a Toyota with tinted windows and no license plates pulled in front of them while they were stopped at the traffic light. Three masked men then got out of the car, approached the journalists with guns drawn, and asked, “who is Abu Bakr?” When Al-Bizanti identified himself, they escorted him into their car, Karifa said.

Al-Bizanti told CPJ that the men handcuffed and blindfolded him, and took his mobile phone. Whenever he asked the men who they were and where he was being taken, the men beat him on the head and told him to be quiet. Al-Bizanti said the car stopped after an hour, that he was then taken to a small cell, where his blindfold was removed, and that he was held there for two hours before three men came in, two of whom were masked. The men then interrogated the journalist for the remainder of the night and beat him on his hands and shoulders, al-Bizanti said.

Al-Bizanti told CPJ that the men asked him about his work for Ahrar Libya TV and opinions he had expressed on his Facebook profile. He said his captors specifically didn’t like how he had covered fighting in Tripoli, or how he described Libya as the country of “militias,” or that he wrote on Facebook in late July that he supported the right of Libyan Jews to return to the country.

“We will show you what militias do,” the unmasked man told said, according to Al-Bizanti.

The journalist said that the next morning he could hear the men discussing various options, including killing him and dumping his body by the side of the road, for what to do with their prisoner. At midday a man into his cell and told him that he would be released. The man threatened to al-Bizanti if he returned to work or criticized them again, al-Bizanti told CPJ.

“This time is just a warning, so that you know who you are playing with. Next time we will cut off your head directly,” one of his captors told him, al-Bizanti told CPJ.

Al-Bizanti said the men then handcuffed and blindfolded him again, put him in a car, drove for two or three hours, and left him by the side of the road near Tripoli airport, where he found a ride to safety.

He said he filed a report about the incident the following day, and that police promised to try to find those responsible.