Libyan militia arrests British journalists on spying charges
March 5, 2012 1 Comment
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The commander of one of the largest armed militia groups in post-revolutionary Libya has announced the arrest of two British journalists accused of spying for an unidentified foreign country. The two journalists, named as Gareth Montgomery-Johnson and Nicholas Davies, are officially accredited reporters working for the London office of Iran’s English-language Press TV news channel. They were reportedly arrested on February 22 in Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, located about 140 miles east of the capital Tripoli. Speaking to reporters at a hastily arranged press conference late on Sunday, Faraj al-Swehli, commander of Misrata’s Swehli Brigade, said that the two British journalists were arrested after they were observed filming around a “sensitive region” of Misrata. Following their arrest by forces loyal to the Swehli Brigade, the two Britons were officially detained after they failed to show their captors evidence of lawful entry into Libya. Commander al-Swehli alleged on Sunday that Davies and Montgomery-Johnson appeared to have entered the country without obtaining the necessary visas or passport entry stamps. Moreover, the Swehli Brigade leadership became suspicious after they found evidence of recent trips by the journalists to China and Israel, as well as photographs of the two men brandishing weapons. Commander al-Swehli also told journalists on Sunday that the two arrestees were found in possession of “[camouflage] uniforms and equipment manufactured in Israel”, but he did not elaborate. Two Reuters news agency correspondents in Libya noted that, due to the chaotic state of government services in Libya, foreign journalists “routinely enter the country without going through normal border procedures”, and they often collect random documents found scattered on the battlefield. Moreover, they write that war correspondents often take pictures of themselves posing with weapons to keep as souvenirs. But the Swehli Brigade appears determined to continue to detain the two journalists, even though it seems that the central Libyan Transitional Council leadership in Tripoli has asked the Misrata commanders to free the detainees. In a move that highlights the increasingly disjointed nature of the Transitional Council, Commander al-Swehli told reporters on Sunday that “if we conclude that [the two detainees] are spies, we will hand them over to our [i.e. the Swehli Brigade’s own] intelligence services”, no matter what Tripoli says.