BY INSI

Your story: Reporting Libya

My story begins at the end of 2012 after the revolution that brought down Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

I was optimistic that the new Libya would be built on the rule of law and democratic institutions and I wanted to fight corruption. But Libya faced many challenges. With no real army and police force, the government was forced to rely on some of the armed groups that emerged after the revolution to provide security.

When I was given a large number of names of militia men, including militia leaders, who’d previously been convicted and imprisoned for up to 25 years for crimes including murder and drugs, I published the names through social media as my newspaper wouldn’t print them.

I started receiving threats, which I ignored, because I did not expect my country to become a hostage to, and to be ruled by, armed militias. In January 2013, I was away at a workshop in Paris when gangs, which is a correct description of these militias, broke into my house by force. They threatened my 80-year-old mother, my wife and my five-year-old son with automatic weapons and took them to one of their camps, though they were released later that evening.

I returned urgently to Libya and took my family to the police station where we reported the crime. I was sure they were not able to do any thing, and the next day went to the Attorney General's office and handed him a complaint, which he transferred to the chief prosecutor. I also took my complaint higher, going to the office of the prime minister who welcomed me and sympathised, then contacted the interior minister and instructed him to do what was necessary to arrest these people. In that moment I felt great pleasure, as I thought that Libya had become the state of our dreams where everyone has rights.

But the next day I had a big shock when an official from the Ministry of Interior said there is nothing we can do for you, as these militias are stronger and better armed than the police, and we cannot get involved in a clash with them.

In the meantime, my family and I lived with friends, because we could not go back to our house. One week later a neighbour called saying an armed group had set fire to my home. None of the neighbours could prevent them as they were afraid.

After these unfortunate events I rented another house in Tripoli and bought some furniture and clothes for my family and tried to begin our life again. But it was difficult, particularly for my son who sometimes has difficulty talking since the incident. Libya has no child psychiatrists that can treat him.

For the sake of my family and their safety, I tried to stay away in my journalistic work from anything that could put me in conflict with the gangs. But in August when fighting started in Tripoli, I started writing impartial stories about the conflict and losses suffered by these gangs. They remembered me, and I started receiving threats by mobile phone and SMS.

I started writing under another name, but the threats continued until one day my son received a message on his mobile. That was a really scary moment, and I realised that this wasn’t going to be like before, and I have to leave Libya.

Accompanied by my family, we travelled by car to Tunisia, through farms and off road to avoid the main roads and checkpoints. Only when we reached the Tunisian-Libyan border did I feel my family was safe.

I’m not the only reporter to have been forced out of Tripoli in recent months. Like me, a colleague working for a Libyan newspaper was terrorised by a militia group who burned and looted his home. He’s now in Tunis.

One television reporter came into conflict with the management at his station who ordered him to report that Tripoli airport was taken by Libya Dawn (it wasn’t). He refused and quit his job and later started to receive telephone threats. He fled Libya for Tunis leaving behind his wife and six-month-old daughter in Libya.

A female television reporter began to receive threats when she reported on secret prisons in Misrata and the situation of the Tawergha refugees who fled their hometown in 2011 ahead of armed fighters from Misrata. The Misratans accuse the Tawerghans of fighting for Gaddafi during the revolution.  She’s also now in Tunisia after an armed group broke into her home and tried to arrest her.

Life is hard in Tunisia though we continue our work from the capital. Rents are high and supplies are expensive. We receive no support from the Libyan government. But we don’t dare to go back. Today the gangs who control Tripoli continue to stalk the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, seven Libyan journalists have been murdered, 37 kidnapped and 127 attacked since the end of the revolution. RWB calls this “another dark episode in Libyan history”.

Libya, my dear country, is really a piece of my heart, but it is now occupied by terrorists. I am very sad about that.

The author is a Libyan journalist who has asked that his name be withheld for security reasons

 

'Your story' is a series of articles around the theme of safety written by journalists on the ground. If you want to write for us please get in touch at [email protected]