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Libyan Islamists threaten to kill journalists – Sources | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt that Libyan Islamist militants who participated in the recent Libyan revolution that brought down Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after almost 42 years in power have threatened to assassinate journalists for criticizing them. Journalists working for a new liberal newspaper launched in Libya following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, named the “Aarous al-Bahr” [Bride of the Sea] newspaper, received death threats from Islamist militants in Tripoli. This was after the “Aarous al-Bahr” newspaper criticized associates of the leader of the newly established Tripoli Military Council, Abdelhakim Belhadj, who is himself a former Emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group [LIFG].

A number of new liberal newspapers have been launched in Libya following the ouster of Colonel Gaddafi, and they have criticized the Islamist militants who took part in the “liberation of Tripoli”, claiming that they are trying to dictate changes in Libyan society, including calling for the closure of beauty salons, and putting pressure on women to wear the hijab.

Belhajd’s appearance as a senior figure in the 17 February revolution that ended Colonel Gaddafi’s rule has led to fears regarding the future of a civil and democratic Libya, particularly after it was revealed that Belhadj had fought alongside the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and that he previously possessed extremist ideology, before renouncing violence. Belhadj responded to these fears by in his first public address in Libya, stressing that he supports the establishment of a civil and democratic Libyan state.

However commenting on Belhadj, National Transitional Council [NTC] representative in Egypt, Fayez Jibril, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “actions, not words, are what matters.” He also said that although Libyan society is religious by nature, the people of Libya follow a moderate interpretation of Islam, rejecting Islamic extremism.

“Aarous al-Bahr” Editor-in-Chief, Fathi Bin Issa, sent a letter to the NTC, claiming that the newspaper had received telephone threats on Wednesday. He revealed that the caller had threatened to “physically exterminate” the newspaper’s journalists for “insulting” Belhadj.

Issa sent copies of this letter to a number of local and international news outlets, including Asharq Al-Awsat, as well as international organizations like the UN. He stressed that this was not the first time that “Aarous al-Bahr” had received such threats since its establishment on 31 August 2011. He said that these threats aim to prevent the “Aarous al-Bahr” staff from carrying out their work and “informing public opinion of public affairs.”

In his letter to the NTC, Issa said that “instead of those who believe that they have been harmed by the content of the newspaper resorting to the pen in order to refute this using proof and evidence” they have resorted to “the method of threatening to physically extermination the journalists responsible for this with the objective of silencing them.”

Issa revealed that this was the first time that “Aarous al-Bahr” staff had received such “explicit” death threats. He called on the Libyan authorities to take the necessary action to protect freedom of expression in the country, stressing that if the NTC fails to deal with this problem then “the threat of violence and death will be the [only] means of dialogue.” He also said that the method used by these Belhadj supporters to threaten the newspaper and its staff “is the same method used by Gaddafi and his revolutionary committees.” He stressed that Libya must not return to the restrictions of the past, following the 17 February revolution that liberated the country from the harsh Gaddafi rule.

For his part, Libyan journalist Emad al-Obeidi revealed that the “Aarous al-Bahr” newspaper – in addition to another local newspaper – has adopted a critical style that Libyan society is not used to following almost 42 years of restrictive Gaddafi rule. He stressed that “criticism in general was unprecedented in the Gaddafi era.”