UK in touch with detained nationals

Libya militia probes British journalists over 'spying'

GMT 08:13 2012 Monday ,05 March

Arab Today, arab today Libya militia probes British journalists over 'spying'

The commander of the Libyan Swehli militia of Misrata, Faraj Swehli (C), speaks during a press conference
Tripoli - Agenciess

The commander of the Libyan Swehli militia of Misrata, Faraj Swehli (C), speaks during a press conference The commander of a Libyan militia that has detained two British journalists working for Iran's English-language Press TV said Sunday the men were being held for illegal entry and possible espionage .
"With regards to the two detainees from Britain, they were in Libya illegally, without a visa or entry stamp," Faraj Swehli told reporters, adding that the men detained last month were still being questioned because incriminating evidence had been found in their possession.
The Swehli militia of Misrata, which also has operatives in Tripoli, seized Nicholas Davies and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson while they were reportedly filming in the capital, according to rights groups that have called for their release.
Britain's foreign office said it was aware that two British nationals had been detained.
"We are providing consular assistance and we continue to have consular access to the Britons involved," the statement said.
Militia commander Swehli said that the suspicious conduct of the journalists led his men to track the pair as they moved around Tripoli and conducted interviews with various ministries of the interim government.
The commander confirmed that the journalists had been detained because they were found filming in a sensitive area of the city at approximately 2:00 am (0000 GMT) nearly two weeks ago.
Press TV had said on February 24 that two of its journalists had been detained in Misrata, but did not say why.
Later, Swehli said, the militia found out the journalists had no entry stamps or visas, while their passports showed that they had travelled in and out of China.
The "evidence" he laid in front of journalists included an Israeli army bandage and photographs of men -- who Swehli identified as the journalists in question -- carrying weapons.
"This is only issued by the Israeli army," the commander declared.
"Is this the camera of a journalist?" asked Suleiman Al-Fortiya, a member of the National Transitional Council representing Misrata, who sat next to the commander during the news conference.
Swehli and Fortiya screened a shaky video of a jubilant man in a cowboy hat dancing at a Tripoli roundabout in the company of an armed man who sat in a car blasting out loud music.
The commander said the detained men were in good condition, adding that British diplomats were visiting them on a daily basis.
Swehli also acknowledged that he had received an order from the interior ministry to release them, but said the pair would remain in detention until investigations were completed.
"If we conclude that they are spies, we will hand them over to our intelligence services," he said.
In an apparent sign of tensions between the interior ministry and Misrata-linked militias, Swehli said that he himself had been detained and questioned on Tuesday for 45 minutes at a checkpoint in Dafniya, near Misrata.
He also charged that a prison in Dafniya had been raided on Friday by forces affiliated with the Misrata branch of the high security committee, which released detainees of Chadian origin.
Interior ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
In response to repeated questions by journalists on when the detainees would be handed over to the interior or defence ministries, Fortiya said "soon," declining to give a specific date.
"We want to know who is behind these people. Those who detained them are revolutionaries. Those who should carry out an investigation is the state but where is the state?
"This is a transition phase with no institutions so every citizen must be alert," continued Fortiya, who praised the brigade for acting to preserve the country's security and sovereignty.
The Swehli brigade is part of a broader conglomeration comprising 10,000 civilians who picked up arms during 2011 conflict that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Both the commander and Fortiya stressed that journalists were welcome in Libya as long as they followed correct procedures, while also warning that not all journalists are what they seem.
"Whoever thinks Libya is a house without doors is wrong," Swehli said.

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