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Libyan Leader Orders Release of 20 Detained Journalists

Analysts say arrests are result of conflict between old-guard elements close to Muammar al Gadhafi, reformers close to his son

Libyan TV is reporting 20 journalists have been released after being recently arrested. Analysts say the arrests are a result of a conflict between old-guard elements close to Libyan leader Muammar al Gadhafi and reformers close to his son.

A simmering conflict between factions within the Libyan political establishment appears to have prompted the recent arrest and release of 20 journalists linked to the al-Ghad media group. Al-Ghad belongs to the reformist-minded son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, Seif al Islam.

Libyan state TV reported the elder Gadhafi ordered the release of the 20 men and women in addition to "opening an inquiry into the matter."

Al-Jazeera TV indicated Libya's internal intelligence agency was behind the arrests. It reported the arrests followed an article last Thursday in Oea newspaper calling for the "return of reform-minded figures [from Libya's 1969 revolution] who now live in exile." The paper also called for the return of Libya's former second-in-command, Abdelsalam Jalloud as a step to fight corruption.

Jalloud was forced to resign during the late 1980s. Libyan exiles accuse the government of stealing billions of dollars of public money.

Gilles Lordet of Reporters Without Borders in Paris says the recent arrests are a strong signal from the old guard faction around Colonel Gadhafi that there will be no change.

He says there was a bit of an opening up of the press inside Libya in 2007 and 2008, with the establishment of the al-Ghad press group that belongs to Colonel Gadhafi's son. But that since 2009 there has been a step backwards. He notes there is a conflict between the reformist and conservative camps and the call by the reformist media for the return of exiled former Libyan government figures was behind the arrests.

Lordet says the recent arrests are a "powerful signal" there is no intention to integrate reformists into the government and that Colonel Gadhafi intends to "keep running the country exactly as he sees fit."

Middle East analyst Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington says the conflict between reformists and conservatives in Libya has been going on for quite a while, and that it has its ups and downs:

"This conflict between the father and the son, or perhaps more appropriately the old guard and the new guard is something that has gone on for quite a while," said Ottaway. "It goes around in circles. In other words, there are times where the old man seems to crack down on his son and then the son is kind of re-instated and then rises up again and he becomes more prominent, and then there is another crackdown. It probably comes from not just a father-son relationship, but probably from the people around them."

The Libyan leader's reformist son, Seif al Islam Gadhafi, has championed a number of sensitive, but popular, causes in recent years, including human rights, corruption and economic liberalization. Recent reports say conservative figures inside the ruling establishment including former key deputy to Colonel Gadhafi, Ibrahim Ahmed, have been trying to stop the push for reform.