‘Unlawful arrest’ of Libya’s media authority chief denounced by UN, US

“This latest round of arbitrary arrests highlights the personal risks journalists take to promote the right to freedom of expression in Libya,” the UN statement said after GNA-allied militia arrested Mohamed Baayou.
Friday 23/10/2020
Members of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade parade through Martyrs’ Square at the centre of the GNA-held Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Members of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade parade through Martyrs’ Square at the centre of the GNA-held Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)

TRIPOLI - The United Nations on Thursday condemned the “unlawful arrest” of the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) media authority, demanding “his immediate and unconditional release.”

Mohamed Baayou, a journalist and a prominent media official under the regime of longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, has spoken out strongly against Islamist groups as well as the many militia forces vying for control of swathes of Libya.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said that Baayou, head of the Libyan Media Corporation, was arrested on Tuesday in the capital Tripoli.

His two sons and a journalist at Libya’s al-Wataniya TV channel, Hind Ammar, were also arrested, but they have since been released, it added.

Libya has been ravaged by violence since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Qaddafi in 2011.

Photographs posted on social media purport to show Baayou being held inside the headquarters of a powerful armed group, the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, which is allied to the GNA.

The UN-recognised GNA, based in Tripoli, has not commented on the arrest.

“This latest round of arbitrary arrests highlights the personal risks journalists take to promote the right to freedom of expression in Libya,” the UN statement said.

“Media freedom is critical to Libya’s democratic transition,” it added.

The US embassy in Tripoli also condemned “the unlawful detention” of Baayou, and said it “reaffirms American support for the rule of law in Libya and the protection of journalists and all Libyans in their right to freedom of expression.”

Baayou had announced a truce in the GNA’s media campaign against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The announcement has sparked violent reactions from Islamists and militias in the Libyan capital.

Baayou’s announcement of a media truce was part of the Geneva understandings aimed at building trust between Libyan factions by stopping hostilities on the ground and in the media. But Libyan sources said that stopping the daily media targeting of Haftar and his supporters came as a shock to the militias and Islamists, whose mere existence and survival depended on them attacking the LNA and its commander.

With the campaign halted, their role comes to an end, especially in conjunction with the truce in field operations as well.

The appointment of Baayou to head the GNA’s information apparatus had been opposed by Islamist figures and others close to the Islamist current because he was affiliated with the former regime. Baayou took office September 10, and his first steps were to work towards ending Islamists’ control of official media.