Flames from a battle between rival armed groups are seen from a distance in Tripoli, Libya, August 24, 2014. (Reuters/Ismail Zetouni)
Flames from a battle between rival armed groups are seen from a distance in Tripoli, Libya, August 24, 2014. (Reuters/Ismail Zetouni)

Libyan TV channel attacked, burned

New York, March 17, 2017–Armed men attacked the Tripoli office of the Libyan TV channel Al-Nabaa and set the building on fire, according to journalists for the station, news reports, and the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press, an advocacy group. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in Tripoli to investigate the assault, bring the perpetrators to justice, and to safeguard the station’s employees.

The attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the office at around 1 a.m. on March 15, then stormed the building and set it on fire, Adnan Darwish, a journalist with the station, told CPJ. He said the attackers also stole administrative records pertaining to station employees.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and the motives behind it were not clear. The station briefly went off air after the incident, according media reports and an emailed statement from Al-Nabaa, which said that no one was injured.

Libya is currently divided between two rival governments, one in the western city of Tripoli and one in the eastern city of Tobruk. Al-Nabaa’s coverage is generally sympathetic to the Tripoli faction.

Hours after the attack, the Libyan TV channel Al-Raseefa, which is generally sympathetic to the Tobruk faction, published on its Facebook page the names and salaries of Al-Nabaa employees, calling the station “terrorist media.” An Al-Nabaa journalist, who asked not to be identified for fear of his safety, said that the TV station’s employees have been repeatedly threatened since the attack, and that some were not sleeping at home.

“The assault on Libya’s Al-Nabaa television channel was an assault on press freedom,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on authorities in Tripoli to bring those responsible to justice and to protect the station’s employees from future violence. We further call on Libyan media to cease putting other journalists in danger by posting their personal information online.”

On March 9 Al-Nabaa broadcast a leaked audio recording of a conversation between Mahmoud al-Misrati, the owner of the daily newspaper Libya al-Jadeeda, and an unidentified aide to Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, the head of the armed forces government in Tobruk. In the recording, the two discuss a campaign to portray groups that recently seized control of eastern Libyan oil facilities as terrorists. In a call with an Al-Nabaa reporter also broadcast on March 9, Al-Misrati confirmed the authenticity of the audio recording and accused Al-Nabaa of being run by terrorists.

Armed groups attacked Al-Nabaa last year because of its support of the Tripoli-based government, CPJ reported at the time.

Last week, authorities in Tobruk shuttered a radio station there after the station aired critical coverage of the Tobruk government. At least 11 journalists have been killed in Libya since conflict erupted there in 2011.