Report Details Threats of Jail, Abduction and Death for Libya's Journalists

Human Rights Watch outlined the dangers faced by Libya’s media in a new report. Ismail Zitouny/Reuters

Journalists in Libya face violent attacks, intimidation, kidnapping and death, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Monday.

Since the ouster and death of Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 Libya has fallen into chaos, and its security situation has been sharply deteriorating since May 2014, as rival governments and associated militias battle for power and influence over the country.

The situation is becoming increasingly difficult to document with the threats that journalists face.

The report details the dire and dangerous working conditions journalists have faced over the last two years in an environment in which the government and various armed groups have taken advantage of chaos to act with impunity. Journalists also face being taken to court for a raft of violations including defaming public officials.

"The failure by successive governments and interim authorities to protect journalists has wiped out much of the limited media freedom that existed following the 2011 uprising that ousted the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi," reads the 54-page report, titled War on the Media: Journalists Under Attack in Libya.

It's a stark difference from the early days after the fall of Qaddafi, when the media briefly flourished and, Human Rights Watch says, "Libyan journalists started to report to news, express opinions, and criticize politicians like never before."

Between mid-2012 until November 2014, Human Rights Watch documented 91 cases of threats and attacks against journalists, including 14 women. These included 30 kidnappings or short-term detentions and an estimated eight killings. There were also 26 armed attacks against television and radio stations, including at the Tripoli offices of the Alassema TV station and the Al-Nabaa TV station.

Amara al-Khatabi, editor of the Tripoli-based al-Ummah newspaper is one of the journalists who has faced a trial over their reporting and charges of slander and libel. Al-Khabati was was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine in November 2014 for "insulting and slandering" public officials when he published a list of allegedly corrupt judges in 2012, according to the report. Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, have been missing from Eastern Libya since September 2014 and their whereabouts remain unknown.

Libya currently occupies the bottom levels of the Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index. The country ranks 137 out of 180 countries with a six-point decline from 2013.

Libya has long been a dangerous country for reporters. Its where photojournalists Chris Hondros, Tim Hetherington and Anton Hammerl both died in 2011 while on assignment. Journalist James Foley was also captured in Libya in 2011 before later being released. In 2012, Foley was kidnapped in Syria and in 2014 became the first Western hostage to be beheaded on camera by ISIS extremists.

Last week, Libya's army claimed it had seized the port of Benghazi from extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, the latest in a string of properties it has taken back from the group, the Al-Qaeda offshoot in Libya. Experts estimate the army now controls around 90 percent of Benghazi after ousting the group.

In its report, Human Rights Watch urged the Libyan government, House of Representatives and militia members to publicly condemn attacks on the media. But in an increasingly hostile environment, the report set a bleak tone.

"This is a very dangerous time to be a journalist in Libya," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Too many journalists in post-Qaddafi Libya face a situation where saying what you think can get you killed."