In 2001 Libya made a comeback onto the international scene. Apart from resuming contact with many Western countries, the president, Muammar Khaddafi wanted above all to impose himself as a leader of pan-Africanism, especially at the OAU (Organisation for African Unity) summit in Sirte.
Libya is a country of contrasts: while Libyans have free access to the Internet and satellite television channels, the media remain under the government’s thumb. They simply convey government propaganda and no criticism of the "Leader" is tolerated. The only noteworthy change in the tone of the media was the reversal, after 11 September 2001, of their attitude towards the United States. Since the New York attacks the press has banned all reference to the American "enemy". Libyan television even broadcast declarations by the US president. Colonel Gaddafi condemned the 11 September attacks and affirmed that his country was opposed to extremist Moslem movements.
A journalist jailed
In late August 2001, during celebrations for the 32nd anniversary of the "Leader’s" coming to power, the GDIFCA (Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Association), chaired by the state president’s son, announced the release of 107 prisoners. "The oldest political prisoner in Libya", according to Amnesty International, was one of those who was said to have been freed. Yet there has been no news of Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi al-Darrat, detained without charges nor trial in 1973.
He is the only journalist in the world to have been detained for such a long time. None of the inquiries about him have revealed his place of detention nor his condition. All requests for information sent to the Libyan authorities have remained unanswered. Many observers think that the journalist is no longer alive.
Pressure and obstruction
At the Sirte summit in early March 2001 many foreign journalists, rarely allowed to visit Libya, worked in difficult conditions. On 2 March an AFP correspondent commented bitterly: "Journalists covering the OAU summit on African union know nothing more about Sirte than their isolated hotel and the luxurious conference centre [...]. You try to take photos outside the hotel? Soldiers stop you. You insist, and the "organisation" takes you by bus to cover 300 metres, under close surveillance by soldiers who take you back to your hotel after five minutes [...]. Does the summit start at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m.? At what time will the journalists be driven to the conference centre? Who’s going to give the opening speech? When will the summit carry on, when will it end? No clear answers [...]. No copies of speeches. No point for the press [...]. No newspapers, except for a rag published for the summit, praising Colonel Gaddafi".
The authorities are totally intolerant of foreign media reporting statements by opponents. In April the official press announced that writer Farag Sayyid Bul-Isha had lost his Libyan citizenship as punishment for participating in the famous programme "The opposite direction" on Al-Jazira.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Leader of the Revolution, has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders