CAIRO — A prominent Libyan journalist was detained by an intelligence body that’s loosely allied with the U.N.-backed government, authorities said Monday.
Intelligence agents arrested Reda Fhelboom at the airport outside the capital Tripoli after he arrived Saturday from neighbouring Tunisia, according to the interior ministry of the Tripoli-based administration.
Fhelboom is the founder of The Libyan Organization for Independent Media, which works to document rights violations against Libyan journalists, as well as to advocate for independent news media and to combat incitement of violence online.
In a statement, the interior ministry denied playing any role in Fhelboom’s arrest, and pointed a finger at the government’s intelligence services, asking them to clarify why the detainment took place.
Although the Tripoli-based government is backed by the U.N. and other Western countries, many of its institutions are in reality staffed and controlled by local militia groups.
The Tripoli government has courted powerful militias for its protection. It’s been facing a monthslong assault on the capital by forces loyal to a rival government based in Libya’s east. Those forces, led by commander Khalifa Hifter, have been trying to capture the capital since April.
Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Fhelboom’s arrest highlighted the specific dangers that journalists face in Libya.
“There are too many government and non-governmental actors that enforce their own rules and try to exert influence amid the ongoing chaos of the war,” he told The Associated Press. He said journalists have been disappeared, detained and tortured by militias on both sides.
Fhelboom’s disappearance sparked sharp condemnation from an array of rights organizations. A statement Monday from Libya’s National Human Rights Committee said those behind his detention should be swiftly “brought to justice.”
The U.N. Support Mission in Libya called for his release and expressed concern that Fhelboom’s “arrest and detention may be on account of his work as a human rights defender and journalist,” in violation of international law.
Hifter’s forces have opened a fierce new assault on the capital in recent days.
The heavy fighting has threatened to plunge the North African nation into another bout of violence rivaling the scale of the 2011 conflict, in which a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
By Isabel Debre, The Associated Press