TRIPOLI, (AFP) – Three BBC journalists in Libya were arrested, beaten and subjected to a mock execution, leading the government to condemn the act as more proof of atrocities committed by embattled leader Moamer Kadhafi’s regime.
The three were arrested on Monday at a checkpoint six miles south of Zawiya, where forces loyal to Kadhafi are fighting vicious battles with rebels, the BBC said.
The three men were then taken to a military barracks in Tripoli where they “suffered repeated assaults” by members of Libya’s army and secret police before being released 21 hours later. All three have now left the country.
“They hit me with a stick, they used their army boots on me, and their knees,” Feras Killani, one of the released BBC Arabic reporters, told BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.
“He found a plastic pipe on the ground and beat me with that, then one of the soldiers gave him a long stick,” added Killani, who is of Palestinian descent.
“After they finished beating me they taped the mask on my head with gaffer tape.
“I think there was something personal against me, they knew me and the sort of coverage I had been doing,” Killani said. “I think they monitored the BBC and had an idea, he knew who we were and what we were doing.”
The Foreign Office (FCO) blasted the “abhorrent” detention of Killani and his colleagues, Briton Chris Cobb-Smith and Turk Goktay Koraltan.
“We were aware of the incident and have been in contact with the BBC throughout, facilitating contacts to ensure the safe release of those detained,” an FCO spokesman said Wednesday.
“We condemn the abhorrent treatment of the team. This is yet another example of the horrific crimes being committed in Libya. The regime had invited journalists to Libya to see the truth. This truth is even more glaring today than it was before.
“As we have made clear there will be a day of reckoning for these abuses,” he added.
Cobb-Smith told the BBC that the three men were “lined up against the wall” before their mock execution.
“I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun,” he explained. “He put it to everyone’s neck. I saw him and he screamed at me.
“Then he walked up to me put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger, twice, the bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed,” he recalled.
“After the shooting incident one man who spoke very good English…ordered them to cut off our handcuffs.
“When he had filled in the paper work, it was suddenly all over. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food,” he added.
Koraltan admitted he was “really scared”. “I thought they were going to kill us and blame Al-Qaedaor the rebels,” he said.
According to Killani, other detainees were being abused in the facility.
“I spent the night in a cell. There were 10 to 12 men from Zawiya. Some were in a bad situation,” he said.
“Two of them told me they had broken ribs. The four who were masked, I helped them breathe by lifting their masks, saw they had been badly beaten,” he recounted.
Liliane Landor, controller, Languages, BBC global news, said: “The BBC strongly condemns this abusive treatment of our journalists and calls on the Libyan government to ensure all media are able to report freely.
“Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country,” she vowed.