Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army gather in the eastern city of Benghazi on June 18, 2020. The Libyan National Army ‘sentenced’ freelance photojournalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zway to 15 years. (AFP/Abdullah Doma)

Libyan National Army ‘sentences’ freelance photojournalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zway to 15 years

Washington, D.C., August 4, 2020–The Libyan National Army should immediately release photojournalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zway, and stop prosecuting journalists in secret trials and in military courts, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In a secret trial proceeding held in May 2020, a military court in Benghazi, a city in eastern Libya controlled by the self-styled Libyan National Army–led by Khalifa Haftar–sentenced al-Zway to 15 years in prison, according to a July 31 post on Twitter by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and an August 4 statement the regional human rights group Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. The court charged al-Zway with “communicating with a television channel that supports terrorism,” according to a July 31 statement signed by four local press freedom groups, the Libyan Organization for Independent Media, the Libyan Center for Freedom of Press, Aswat Media Network, and the Libyan Association for Investigative Journalism, and news reports.

Al-Zway has been held in Al-Kwayfiya prison, in the suburbs of Benghazi, since he was detained on December 20, 2018, as CPJ has documented and according to Karim Salem, a Libya researcher at Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Al-Zway was detained for allegedly working for Al-Nabaa, a privately owned Libyan news channel broadcast from Turkey, CPJ documented.

The court did not allow al-Zway to contact his lawyer during the secret trial or notify his family about it, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies statement, the statement by the press freedom groups, and news reports.

“Employing secret trials and prosecuting journalists in a military court controlled by a militia is unacceptable. This ridiculous sentence alone exposes the injustice of such a military regime,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “The Libyan National Army must immediately and unconditionally release Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zway and allow journalists to live and work safely.”

Major General Ahmed al-Mesmary, spokesperson for the Libyan National Army, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via his official Facebook page.

Two of al-Zway’s relatives, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said that they were not aware of al-Zway’s trial in May. They said they have not been in contact with him since his arrest. 

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.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned al-Zway’s detention and secret trial on the basis that they are in violation of Libyan and international laws, according to the mission’s statement on Twitter.

The four Libyan press freedom rights groups condemned al-Zway’s sentence and said that the photojournalist did not participate in any acts of violence and that he was within his rights, according to their statement.