BBC journalists kidnapped in Libya released after diplomatic pressure

LONDON: Three BBC journalists and a Swedish reporter were abducted in Libya and later released following diplomatic pressure from the British organization and the two governments, media reported on Monday.

The reporters were kidnapped and interrogated in a torture cell for five days by intelligence agents shortly after their arrival in Libya in March.

A spokesperson from the BBC confirmed that three of its journalists were “detained and interrogated over a number of days by the Libyan intelligence authorities,” adding that the questioning went on despite their authorization to work in the country.

The BBC journalists — who remain unnamed — together with Kassem Hamade, a Swedish national working for the news outlet Expressen, arrived in Libya to make a documentary about Imam Musa Al-Sadr, who disappeared in 1978.

Hamade wrote in the Swedish newspaper that prior to their abduction the four were held back at Tripoli Airport for three hours upon arrival, while security appeared to be constantly on guard.

“We are monitored,” he wrote. “The security people look at us with great suspicion and even though all the passengers have already left the arrivals hall, we remain for three hours before our passports are stamped and we are allowed to enter the country.”

Hamade compared their arrival to “entering a war zone,” adding that authorities rebooked the crew into a different hotel.

The crew — made up of Hamade, a reporter, a cameraman and a producer — was kidnapped three days after arrival while waiting for further accreditation.

Hamade added: “I still don’t know why I was kidnapped, but the closest I can come to an explanation is that the documentary I traveled to Libya to complete has spooked people in the intelligence community, men of great power who were formerly loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.”

The journalists were released after five days following pressure from the UK’s Foreign Office, the Swedish government, and the BBC.

A BBC spokesperson said: “A small team working for the BBC entered Libya in March of this year with full permission to gather material for a story.

“We stand by our journalists and are deeply concerned about the treatment of this team. The safety of those working for the BBC is our first priority, and we continue to support this team.”

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said it had supported the crew and had raised the individuals’ cases directly with the Libyan authorities.

Al-Sadr, the subject of the planned documentary, was a prominent Shiite Muslim who was instrumental in turning Lebanon’s Shiite minority into a politically powerful group.

Libya has always denied any involvement in his disappearance, but authorities believe he was kidnapped and executed.