Armed Group Detains Media Figures

From Human Rights Watch (HRW).

An armed group linked with Libya’s internationally recognized government arrested two organizers of an annual media award in Libya on April 29, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The reasons for their arrests remain unknown, and their families have no access to them.

According to a friend of the two men who spoke with Human Rights Watch on May 6, the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), linked to the Interior Ministry of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), arrested the two men at different locations on the same day.

The friend said the group arrested Suleiman Qashout, a prominent TV anchor and chair of the Septimus Award’s board of directors, at around 10:30 p.m. while he was with Qashout at a café in Tripoli’s Hai Al-Andalous area. He said the two were waiting for Mohamed Yaacoubi, director of the award, who had apparently been arrested earlier that day by the same force. A relative of Qashout who spoke with Human Rights Watch on May 2 and 6, said the armed group provided no warrant or legal justification for the arrests.

“Libyan authorities should release the two men immediately unless they can show an arrest warrant and a legitimate basis for their arrest,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, this looks like yet another example of armed groups detaining journalists and media professionals to harass and intimidate them.”

Media reports said that a spokesperson for the armed group confirmed the arrests and denied that they were related to the media award. Human Rights Watch spoke on May 2 by phone with another friend of Qashout who said that Qashout had received several warnings before and after the 2018 award ceremony, which took place on March 28. Qashout’s relative said that the SDF had warned Qashout against organizing the award.

The relative speculated that the SDF might have targeted the men because of the nature of the award ceremony, where men and women mingled and some women wore clothing that the armed group perceived to be against social values.

According to Qashout’s relative, on April 30 the SDF summoned the families of both men to the group’s headquarters and main detention facility in Mitiga military base in Tripoli. They confirmed the arrests and allowed a relative of Yaacoubi to visit him, but gave no further information. According to Qashout’s relative, the family has not heard from Qashout or seen him since his arrest, and has had no further communication with the SDF since then.

More here from HRW.

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