Libyan forces are cracking down on journalists reporting news unflattering to Muammar Qaddafi. Three BBC reporters were arrested by Libyan military officers and held for 21 hours, during which they were beaten and subjected to a mock execution. Separately, a correspondent for The Guardian, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has been missing for three days, along with Brazillian reporter Andrei Netto.
The BBC journalists--Feras Killani, who is Palestinian, Goktay Koraltan, who is Turkish, and Chris Cobb-Smith, who's British--were eventually released, the BBC then posting a lengthy interview with them in which they described their ordeal. It's clear Libyan forces were "doing their homework," Cobb-Smith says, as they knew what the men had been writing. The guards also knew about Killani's Palestinian heritage, and singled him out for extra beatings. Then they were taken to another military compound.
Koraltan says the place "looked like a film set, like an execution place." Killani was beaten again and threatened with AK-47s. They were placed in a cell, and guards put masks on their faces and handcuffed them. "I thought they would shoot us, I could hear guns loading. I was scared to death I thought it was the execution moment," Koraltan says. The men were put in a dirty cell with another terrified prisoner, who kept making slit-throat gestures. Eventually, they were moved to what they think was the headquarters of the foreign intelligence service. It sounded like people were being tortured.
Koraltran says it sounded like a "big operation" and "I could hear screams coming from the second floor. I could see people being taking to other parts of the building hooded and handcuffed."
They were led outside a building and told to line up with their faces to the wall. "A man with a small sub-machine gun was putting it to the nape of everyone's neck in turn. He pointed the barrel at each of us," Cobb-Smith says. "When he got to me at the end of the line, he pulled the trigger twice. The shots went past my ear. They all laughed as though it was very funny. There was a whole group of them in plain clothes."
"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. Big fat chap. He was very pleasant, ordered them to cut off our handcuffs. When he had filled in the paper work, 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."
The currently missing Guardian reporter, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, is a respected foreign correspondent and an Iraqi national. He's been reporting from western Libya for two weeks and was in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, when he disappeared. Abdul-Ahad was traveling with Brazillian reporter Andrei Netto, who is also missing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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