Glen Johnson

Kiwi filmmaker detained again in Libya

July 24, 2012 New Zealand Herald

A New Zealand-born filmmaker has been temporarily released into the protection of the British Embassy in Libya after nearly three days in detention.

Sharron Ward, a freelance filmmaker, was initially detained on Thursday after conducting interviews on former rebel abuses at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp on the eastern fringes of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

She was held for around six hours before being released. She was detained for lacking proper permission to film in the area – a disused naval academy in Janzour.

Ward said officials had taken her passport and some video equipment.

Staff from the British embassy accompanied Ward back to a Supreme Security Council base in Ain Zara at around 2 pm on Saturday (Libyan time) for a follow-up interview.

Ward remained in detention for a further 48 hours.

No charges were laid, however it is rumoured she was being investigated for espionage.

Ward said she was waiting for a few “outstanding issues to be resolved” and would not comment on whether she would be deported or not, or if charges would be brought against her.

She had not been mistreated.

Foreigners and journalists are viewed with increasing suspicion in Libya.

Two British journalists working for the Iranian channel Press TV were detained by a militia for around three weeks earlier this year, accused of espionage, as was Australian ICC lawyer Melinda Taylor, held for 26 days in Zintan.

“We were never provided with an order or decision concerning the legal basis for our arrest and detention,” Taylor told the Hague in July. “Or for the search and seizure of privileged and confidential ICC documents.”

It is believed that security personnel additionally detained one of Ward’s contacts from the Janzour IDP camp, a Tawerghan male who was released on Sunday night.

Since the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the naval academy where Ward was originally detained has become an IDP camp, housing around 2,500 Tawerghans – descendents of black African slaves – whose town, home to 30,000 people, was razed by rebels, hurling Molotov cocktails, accusing the town’s inhabitants of fealty to Gaddafi in a crazed and bloody haze of retributive violence.

Gaddafi used Tawergha as a base to launch a sustained assault on neighbouring Misrata during last year’s insurgency.

Abductions of Tawerghans from checkpoints and hospitals are common as are arbitrary arrests and some instances of extra-judicial killing. Torture in Libyan prisons is believed to be widespread, while some detainees – particularly black African illegal migrant workers – have been press-ganged, sold into modern day slavery from Libyan prisons operating outside of government control.

Earlier this year the international humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, closed down its Misrata operations, citing widespread torture of detainees.

“Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for further interrogation,” said MSF General Director Christopher Stokes in a statement. “This is unacceptable. Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.”

In February, a militia from Misrata – traveling in a reckless 20-vehicle caravan – stormed the naval academy where Ward was arrested, firing heavy weapons at the installation’s six guards before sweeping into the compound. By the assault’s end a 63-year-old woman had been shot point-blank in the head and two boys, were laying face down on a nearby beach, one was shot in the back 10 times.

Another four bodies lay strewn throughout the compound.

No arrests were made in connection with the killings, despite the militia’s name, according to witness testimony, being spray-painted onto the sides of vehicles’.

The country’s interim authority began passing laws arguably stifling free speech and targeting the press earlier this year.

The National Transitional Council passed Law 37 (2012) – with shades of draconian Gaddafi-era laws according to rights groups – that criminalised the glorification of the former regime, including Gaddafi, and anyone who insults “the prestige of the state”, its institutions or the Libyan people, as well as those who publish news which “harms the February 17 Revolution”.

The law was later ruled unconstitutional.

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