Hopes for free media dashed in post-Kadhafi Libya

Tripoli, March 21 2:10pm (AFP/APP): A decade after the fall of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and the end of his regime’s stranglehold on information, hopes for a free media remain a mirage.

With the 2011 uprising followed by a long and often violent transition, media professionals still face censorship, intimidation and threats to their lives. “The state of the press reflects the state of the country: catastrophic!” said radio journalist Nahla Tarhouni, who added sadly that “we had such high hopes”.

Fighting finally came to a halt last summer and a ceasefire has held since October, allowing for a new unity government to take office in mid-March with the mission of leading the North African country to elections in December.

Media professionals have paid a heavy price before this light at the end of the tunnel. Around 20 journalists have been killed with “total impunity” over the past decade, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The group ranked Libya 164th out of 180 countries in its 2020 press freedom index. Scores of journalists, from both Libyan and foreign media, have been attacked or kidnapped by militias, with no recourse to justice.

Among them were Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, who disappeared in the Ajdabiya region of eastern Libya in 2014. Their fate has never been officially confirmed, although several sources said the two men were killed by supporters of the Islamic State jihadist group, which for a time held sway over part of the country.

As two rival administrations vied for power in Libya up until last year’s ceasefire, alongside a multitude of militias, foreign troops and mercenaries, the media has often been caught in the crossfire.

– Journalists ‘press-ganged’ –

Many journalists faced new pressure from a propaganda war between the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and its rivals in the east loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

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