Libyan militia accuses detained journalists of spying

Two British journalists arrested last month by a Libyan militia group have been accused of spying.

The UK Guardian reports that Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, 36, and reporter Nicholas Davies, 37, who work for Iran's state-owned Press TV, were arrested on 23 February 2012 by a Misrata militia based in Tripoli.

The Guardian quotes Dr Suleiman Fortia, a Misratan member of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council, as saying that the militia had government authority to hold the men because they represented the "February 17 Revolution", the date on which Libya's revolution began last year (2011).

"We are all part of the government, the militias and government are together," said Fortia. "Intelligence services around the world have the authority to hold onto suspects while they are investigating them." He cited the example of Tripoli's militia commander, Abdul Hakim Bilhaj, who was detained by the United States in 2004, accused of terrorism in an operation Bilhaj has said Britain was complicit.

Fortia said the men would remain in detention in the former women's military academy on Tripoli's beachfront and that more inquiries would be needed to determine if they were spies. "It is too early to decide. This is something that will be proved after further investigations."

Fortia said he had informed Libya's interior and defence ministries, and had received no complaints about their decision to continue detaining the men. "They all know what they are doing."

"We have the total responsibility for security in Tripoli," said Faraj al-Swehli, the militia commander. "We have to protect the 17 February Revolution and not everyone who carries a camera is really a journalist."

Swehli's militia last week saw its main checkpoint in Misrata attacked by other militias of the city's military council, who accused it of holding captives in illegal detention.

Protests are planned for Monday by Tripoli citizens against the continued presence in the city of militias from Misrata and other units from outside the Libyan capital, who they say are a threat to security.


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