New York, January 16, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Libyan National Army to release journalist Ismail Bouzreeba al-Zway, who was detained December 20 in the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya, according to news reports, local press organizations, and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.
Al-Zway, who shoots photo and video footage of community events in Ajdabiya for Libyan Cloud News Agency and other news outlets, was detained while covering a ceremony honoring Ajdabiya’s first generation of teachers, Ameen Ahmed, a member of local press freedom group the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press, told CPJ.
Al-Zway is being held at a prison in the eastern city of Benghazi’s Al-Kwayfiya suburb, Ahmed told CPJ. Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, is under control of the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar, although CPJ could not determine what authority or group initially detained the journalist. Libya is split between rival governments led by the Libyan National Army in the east and the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, Libya’s capital.
CPJ could not determine the circumstances of al-Zway’s arrest, including who detained him or when was transferred from Ajdabiya to Benghazi. CPJ tried to reach al-Zway’s uncle by Facebook and his cousin via WhatsApp, but the messages went unanswered.
A spokesperson for the Libyan National Army did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
“The Libyan National Army should immediately release photojournalist Ismail Bouzreeba al-Zway, who has been arbitrarily detained for weeks,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. “Libyan journalists should not be subjected to brazen and arbitrary detentions.”
A CPJ review of al-Zway’s Facebook page showed that he covered various events around Ajdabiya such as lectures, panels, competitions, and natural phenomena before his arrest.
Al-Zway was detained for allegedly working for Al-Nabaa, a privately owned Libyan news channel broadcast from Turkey, Ahmed told CPJ. Authorities in east Libya view Al-Nabaa with hostility due to the channel’s criticism of the Libyan National Army, according to Ahmed.
Al-Nabaa is also viewed in Libya as being allied with Islamists, according to news reports. In March 2017, armed men attacked the office of Al-Nabaa in Tripoli and set the building on fire, CPJ reported at the time.
The Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press reported that the journalist’s family denied that he was connected to Al-Nabaa. The center also reported on Twitter that Al-Nabaa denied any affiliation with al-Zway.
Ahmed said al-Zway was barred from receiving visitors in prison.
Al-Zway also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Libyan Youth Club for Culture and Dialogue, a local debate club in Ajdabiya, according to a statement by the local press freedom group Libyan Organization for Independent Media and a Facebook post by the journalist’s uncle, Suleiman Gharbi. Gharbi did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via Facebook.