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Libya20.01.2003

Libya’s election to head the UN Human Rights Commission "a disgrace"

Reporters Without Borders called Libya’s election today as new head of the UN Human Rights Commission "a disgrace." What credibility can this body have when it is chaired by the representative of a country that abuses such rights every day?

Reporters Without Borders called Libya’s election today as new head of the UN Human Rights Commission "a disgrace."

"What credibility can this body have when it is chaired by the representative of a country that abuses such rights every day?" said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.

"This election proves, as if there was any doubt, that the Commission serves to cover up the abuses of its members through dirty deals. The composition of the Commission this year is a good example. Fourteen of its 53 members represent countries that violate press freedom every day," Ménard said.

Press freedom is non-existent in Libya. The written and broadcast media are completely controlled by the regime and no criticism of Col. Gaddafi, the "Guide" is allowed. One journalist, Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi al-Darrat, was jailed in 1973 but nothing has been heard of him since then - where he is being held or even whether he is still alive.

The only window Libyans have on the outside world is through the Internet and satellite TV, which are permitted. Visas for foreign journalists are rarely granted.

The latest attack on press freedom involved six foreign journalists - one from the French TV station I-Télévision, a photographer from the French news agency Agence France-Presse, two journalists of the British paper The Sunday Times, an American freelance and an Israeli-American freelance.

The group arrived in Tripoli on 4 January to report on the story of Tecca Zendik, a young American who took part in the Miss Networld contest held in Libya last November. At the ceremony, she had wept when Col. Gaddafi criticised the United States. To make it up to her, he invited her to return to Libya this month to receive a Libyan passport and appointment as honorary Libyan consul in the US.

Libyan officials refused to allow the Israeli-American journalist, Daphne Barak (a cousin of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak), to enter the country when she presented her Israeli passport and she was deported the next day. According to Patrice Vanoni with I-Télévision, the Miss Networld organiser, Omar Harfush, had assured her beforehand that she could enter the country with her Israeli passport. Omar Harfush, told Reporters Without Borders that Barak had assured him she would present her American passport.

The next day, when the AFP photographer wanted to leave the country a few days earlier than scheduled, he was told he would have to wait. The group was not allowed to leave until 10 January, two days later than planned.

"They threatened us and kept us against our will," said the I-Télévision journalist, Patrice Vanoni. Unidentified plainclothes officials told them they could not have their passports, which had been taken on arrival, until the film footage and photographs they had taken of Barak’s arrival at the airport had been destroyed.

"When we threatened to complain to the French embassy that we were being held hostage, they arranged a meeting for us with Col. Gaddafi" said Vanoni. After the film had been destroyed, their passports were returned and they were allowed to leave the country. However, the AFP photographer said they had been able to save "some material they wanted to keep."