Africa

Libya leader Gaddafi orders release of 19 journalists

Images posted on the Libya Press news agency website
Image caption The Libyan authorities had arrested 19 journalists and a senior media executive

A group of journalists arrested in Libya have been released on the order of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan media report.

Authorities had arrested 19 journalists and a senior media executive, reportedly as part of a power struggle inside the ruling elite.

The journalists work for the Libya Press news agency, affiliated to a firm founded by one of Col Gaddafi's sons.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is seen a reformist and critic of conservatives.

In its first mention of the arrests Libya's official Jana news agency said Col Gaddafi had intervened on the journalists' behalf.

"The Libyan news agency learned last night that the Leader of the Revolution [Col Gaddafi] had issued instructions to release the journalists belonging to Libya Press and ordered an investigation into the matter," it said.

Image caption Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is seen by some as a possible successor to his father

The journalists - who are of various nationalities, including Libyans, Egyptians and Tunisians - were arrested by security forces in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in the last few days.

Fawzi Ben-Tamer, the deputy head of the al-Ghad Media Company, which owns the news agency and other media outlets, told the BBC that they were all treated well and that no official charges were made against them.

He said they remained in the offices of the administrative section of the internal security building in Tripoli throughout the detainment and were given mattresses to sleep on the floors of the offices, with food and beverages.

All of the detained were individually questioned.

Mr Ben-Tamer says they were mostly asked about their work and the newsgathering practices of the agency.

No official reason has been given for the arrests.

But they are widely believed to be the result of scathing allegations published against the government and a senior figure in the revolutionary guard.

Correspondents also say the arrests may reflect a wider internal struggle between reformers and conservatives.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second of the Libyan leader's seven sons, is said to be popular among Libyans pushing for reform.

He is seen by some as a possible successor to his father.

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