Journalist released in eastern Libya, but not yet really free
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the release of Ismail Ali Bouzriba, a journalist detained arbitrarily for nearly three years in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, but calls for an end to the draconian restrictions on his activities and his close surveillance by the domestic security services linked to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country.
A reporter for Libyan Cloud News Agency and Ajdabia TV, Bouzriba finally left prison on the evening of 11 September under an amnesty issued by the high command of Gen. Haftar’s military forces after being detained since 20 December 2018. But friends and colleagues wonder how much freedom he really has.
After being held in isolation for more than two and a half years, Bouzriba is now in very poor physical and psychological shape and is still controlled by his former jailers. RSF has learned that, before being released, he had to sign an undertaking not to talk to the media or provide international NGOs with details of the conditions in which he was detained.
Bouzriba has yet to be given any document saying that he is no longer the subject of criminal proceedings or that the 25-year prison sentence he received has been quashed. He and his family are convinced that he could be re-imprisoned at any time.
He received the 25-year sentence from a military court in Benghazi in May 2020 for “communicating with a TV channel that supports terrorism.” The channel, Annabaa TV, was allegedly funded by an Al-Qaeda member and was deemed to be allied with the forces controlling the west of the country. It has since been closed.
“We welcome Ismail Ali Bouzriba’s release after an unjustified detention lasting nearly three years,” said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF’s North Africa desk. “But the restrictions imposed by Gen. Haftar’s domestic security forces and the long jail sentence still hanging over him cast doubt on the reality of his release. He must now be cleared of all suspicion, his unfounded 25-year prison sentence must be overturned, and he must be allowed to resume his journalistic activities without delay.”
Since Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011, no consensus have ever been reached on how Libya should be governed and two rival de facto governments currently exercise limited control over different parts of the country. Political instability and security threats take a heavy toll on media and journalists, who often have to take sides in the conflict and are the victims of attacks.
As far as RSF knows, Bouzriba was the only journalist still detained anywhere in Libya. But two Tunisian journalists who were reporting in the western part of the country, Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, have been missing since September 2014.
Libya is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.