Libya frees two British journalists accused of spying
Gareth Montgomery-Johnson and Nicholas Davies work for Iran’s Press TV and were arrested by militia group in February
Two British journalists who were arrested last month by a Libyan militia group and accused of spying have been released and will leave the country on Monday, Libya’s Interior Ministry has said.
Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, 36, and Nicholas Davies, 37, who work for Iran’s state-owned Press TV, were arrested on 23 February by a Misrata militia based in Tripoli.
Their detention was a direct challenge to the authority of the country’s government and prompted calls from Amnesty International for the Libyan government take custody of the journalists and hold the militia to account.
“They have been released and tomorrow they will leave the country,” Abed al-Menemayad, head of the media and international cooperation office at the Interior Ministry, told Reuters.
“The British consul received them and the charges against them have been dropped.”
The news was not confirmed immediately by the Foreign Office although a spokesman in London said that it was aware of the reports.
The men were transferred to the custody of the Libyan government last Wednesday while Libya’s deputy interior minister, Omar al-Khadrawi, promised that they would be released soon following questioning, “if no crime has been committed”.
The head of the militia – known as the Swehli brigade – which was holding the two journalists had accused them of spying on government facilities and subsequently released a video of them in which they apologised for entering the country illegally.
The episode has contributed to highlighting the difficulties experienced by Libya’s new rulers in reining in the many groupings of former rebels which have sparred to keep control of their territory and centres of power since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Speaking on a day when clashes between a powerful militia and Tripoli residents killed at least one person, the head of the interim government said earlier on Sunday that militias should not control government buildings or institutions.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told the Associated Press that the militias must be disarmed and said his government does not want them in control of state facilities.
In Tripoli, a powerful militia from Libya’s western mountains is in control of the country’s main international airport. The former rebels from Zintan, who are well armed and well trained, are in charge of airport security in the absence of a fully fledged police or military force.
A Zintan militia commander, Mohammed el-Rebay, said one of his fighters was killed during the day in a gunfight with residents of Tripoli’s Abu Salim district, which was once a stronghold of pro-Gaddafi loyalists.
Libya’s government estimates that over 200,000 people in Libya are armed. It has attempted a number of schemes, including offering people jobs in exchange for handing over their weapons or offering to buy their weapons, in order to disarm the militias.
from Ben Quinn