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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Jeremy Corbyn will stay on the Labour leadership ballot paper, judge rules

Labour donor Michael Foster had challenged the decision at the High Court.

The High Court has ruled that Jeremy Corbyn should be allowed to automatically run again for Labour leader after the decision of the party's National Executive Committee was challenged. 

Corbyn declared it a "waste of time" and an attempt to overturn the right of Labour members to choose their leader.

The decision ends the hope of some anti-Corbyn Labour members that he could be excluded from the contest altogether.

The legal challenge had been brought by Michael Foster, a Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate, who maintained he was simply seeking the views of experts.

But when the experts spoke, it was in Corbyn's favour. 

The ruling said: "Accordingly, the Judge accepted that the decision of the NEC was correct and that Mr Corbyn was entitled to be a candidate in the forthcoming election without the need for nominations."

This judgement was "wholly unaffected by political considerations", it added. 

Corbyn said: "I welcome the decision by the High Court to respect the democracy of the Labour Party.

"This has been a waste of time and resources when our party should be focused on holding the government to account.

"There should have been no question of the right of half a million Labour party members to choose their own leader being overturned. If anything, the aim should be to expand the number of voters in this election. I hope all candidates and supporters will reject any attempt to prolong this process, and that we can now proceed with the election in a comradely and respectful manner."

Iain McNicol, general secretary of the Labour Party, said: “We are delighted that the Court has upheld the authority and decision of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. 

“We will continue with the leadership election as agreed by the NEC."

If Corbyn had been excluded, he would have had to seek the nomination of 51 MPs, which would have been difficult since just 40 voted against the no confidence motion in him. He would therefore have been effectively excluded from running. 

Owen Smith, the candidate backed by rebel MPs, told the BBC earlier he believed Corbyn should stay on the ballot paper. 

He said after the judgement: “I’m pleased the court has done the right thing and ruled that Jeremy should be on the ballot. This now puts to bed any questions about the process, so we can get on with discussing the issues that really matter."

The news was greeted with celebration by Corbyn supporters.