BBC journalists’ imprisonment sheds light on Libya’s political prisoners

Eyewitness accounts of dire conditions in a Libyan prison give a disturbing insight into repression

Three BBC journalists working in Libya were arrested, tortured, kept in a cage and subjected to a mock execution early this week after they attempted to reach the conflict-torn western city of Zawiya.

Feras Killani, a reporter for the BBC Arabic Service who is a Palestinian refugee with a Syrian passport and the Turkish cameraman Goktay Koraltan were arrested on Monday together with Chris Cobb-Smith, a British citizen. They were at a checkpoint in Zahra, six miles from the besieged town.

The three men have spoken to media colleagues about the ordeal they underwent. Killani was beaten repeatedly. This is the most serious incident yet involving the international media, and a worrying indicator of the lengths to which the Libyan regime will go to avoid the spread of information.

However, perhaps the most important and disturbing aspect of the case is the light it sheds on conditions endured by Libyans who have been arrested. These prisoners, some of whom have been detained simply for speaking to foreign journalists on the phone, have no one to ensure their safe release. The journalists were eventually freed after Cobb-Smith managed to contact the BBC on a phone that he had hidden.

All three men say they heard screams of pain in the facility.

Koraltan said:

I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them [the other detainees] were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.

Killani, who spent the night in a cell with some detainees, said they said that "where they were now was like heaven compared to where they had been". He added:

Four of them [the detainees] were in a very bad situation. There was evidence of torture on their faces and bodies. One of them said he had at least two broken ribs. I spent at least six hours helping them drink, sleep, urinate and move from one side to another.

As the UN considers what action to take, the plight of political prisoners in Libya must be taken into account. Press Gazette has a full transcript of the three journalists' discussion with their BBC colleague Jeremy Bowen.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.
 
 

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.