BBC journalists subjected to torture in Libya

Journalists working for the BBC have described how they were arrested, tortured, and subject to mock executions by security forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime, in what the Guardian is calling “the most serious incident against international media.

The reporters, who have since been released from imprisonment, have told media colleagues of the shocking treatment they received, including “being held in a cage in militia barracks while others were tortured around them”, it reports.

The BBC reports that three of its journalists, who were attempting to reach the “strife-torn” city of Zawiya, were detained on Monday and held for 21 hours, during which they were “beaten with fists, knees and rifles, hooded and subjected to mock executions”.

One of the journalists arrested after the team showed identification to army forces at a roadblock, Chris Cobb-Smith, told the BBC: “We were lined up against the wall. I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone’s neck. I saw him and he screamed at me.

“Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed.”

Another member of the team, Goktay Koraltan, told the BBC: “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them [other detainees] were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.”

The third member, Feras Killani – who the BBC says was accused of being a spy and singled out for beatings – added: “Four of them [detainees] were in a very bad situation. There was evidence of torture on their faces and bodies. One of them said he had at least two broken ribs. I spent at least six hours helping them drink, sleep, urinate and move from one side to another.”

The BBC had made a “frantic” effort to secure the men according to the Guardian, and the next morning they were moved to different barracks. Cobb-Smith said: “After the shooting incident, one man who spoke very good English, almost Oxford English, came to ask who we were, home towns and so on. He was very pleasant, ordered them to cut off our handcuffs. When he had filled in the paperwork, it was suddenly all over. They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food.”

A Libyan government official has reportedly apologised for what the BBC team were put through. The BBC said in a statement: “Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country.”

(Links: The Guardian, BBC)

Image taken by BRQ Network, licensed under Creative Commons.

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