Gaddafi orders release of 20 journos

2010-11-09 07:53

Tripoli - Veteran Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has ordered the release of 20 journalists working for titles close to his reformist son, who were arrested amid a mounting backlash from conservatives, state television reported.

The Oea weekly and the Libyapress news agency, both run by the Al-Ghad publishing company sponsored by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, said on Monday that 10 of their journalists had been picked up by agents of the Internal Security Agency, among them three Tunisians and two Egyptians.

A further 10 journalists working for Al-Ghad titles were rounded up in a second wave of arrests, the company said.

Muammar Gaddafi late on Monday "gave instructions for the release of the Libyapress journalists and asked that an inquiry be opened into the matter", the television said.

Libyapress earlier condemned what it called the "shameful and scandalous" detention of its staff and demanded their immediate release.

Al-Ghad said it had been ordered to suspend publication of Oea after the state printing press produced its own version of the paper on Sunday with the slightly amended title Sabah Oea (Morning Oea) but with the same masthead and editor's name.

The company said the "fake" government version had no connection with the real paper and condemned what it called a "first in the annals of the Libyan press".

The Al-Ghad titles said the arrests may have come in response to an editorial in Oea calling for a return to government of some of the leaders of the 1969 revolution that brought Gaddafi to power who have since been driven from office.

Champion of domestic reform

The editorial said that the return of men like Abdelsalem Jalloud, currently without any public position, would help in the fight against rampant corruption.

Other Libyan sources said that the security police had also been angered by the publication by Libyapress last Thursday of a report that 1980s strongman Ahmed Ibrahim had launched a campaign against the rehabilitation of political exiles, a key policy championed by Seif al-Islam.

Since Oea and its sister title Quryna first hit the news stands in August 2007, the Al-Ghad titles have covered a raft of sensitive issues, including corruption, human rights and the Islamist opposition.

The company already lost its television channel Al-Libiya in June last year when the government made broadcasting a state monopoly. Oea has also had to switch from being a daily to a weekly, officially for financial reasons.

Long a key figure in Libya's foreign policy and an architect of the once pariah state's rapprochement with the West, Seif al-Islam has become an outspoken champion of domestic reform over the past three years.

As well as greater press freedom and the return of exiles, he has advocated privatisation of big swathes of Libya's large state sector and the relaxation of restrictions on the Berber minority.