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British journalists detained in Libya released

Dominique Soguel

Libya's interior ministry says the two British journalists detained last month on suspicion of espionage have been found innocent and released.

Two British journalists working for an Iranian broadcaster who were detained by a Libyan militia last month have been freed, the interior ministry said on Sunday.

“The interior ministry granted their release when it became obvious that no crime had been committed,” deputy interior minister Omar al-Khadrawi told reporters in Tripoli.

“They have expressed a desire to leave Libya,” he added.

The two journalists, Nicholas Davies and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, were seated beside the official during the press conference, looking tired but healthy.

Afterwards, they left the ministry building in a British embassy car.

Khadrawi said two Libyans had been arrested along with the Britons but made no comment on what had become of them.

The Swehli militia from the western city of Misrata, which also operates in Tripoli, seized the pair last month while they were reportedly filming in a sensitive area of Tripoli late at night.

Suspicious behaviour
The commander of the militia, Faraj Swehli, charged last month that the two Britons, who were working for Iran’s English-Language Press TV, were being held for illegal entry and possible espionage.

Swehli said suspicious conduct by the journalists led his men to track them as they moved around Tripoli and conducted interviews at various ministries of the interim government.

As evidence, he laid in front of journalists included a “Made in Israel” army field dressing and photographs of men—who Swehli identified as the journalists in question—carrying weapons.

On Wednesday, after extensive negotiations with interim authorities which had declared the detention illegal and after pressure from rights groups, the militia handed the journalists over to the interior ministry.

Government spokesperson Mohammed al-Harizi said on Saturday that the two were still under investigation because there was “too much information [suggesting] they were in Libya for purposes other than journalism.”

Innocence
He said that they had been found in possession of a letter from Saif al-Islam, son of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

On Sunday, the deputy interior minister acknowledged that while there had been suspicions about their activities but told reporters their “innocence has been proven”.

“What happened could not be considered as a kidnapping by revolutionaries,” Khadrawi said, adding that former rebels had been acting in the interest of state security.

The two journalists were not given an opportunity to speak to the press.

When asked if he had been treated well, Montgomery-Johnson simply nodded.

A British embassy spokesperson welcomed their release, adding that “the men have confirmed they are well and look forward to being reunited with their families soon”.—AFP

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