Austria Invites “wrong person” from Libya to Vienna’s Journalists Safety Conference


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) published on its Twitter account the reception between Foreign Minister, Najla Al-Manqoush and the Ambassador of the Republic of Austria, Christoph Meyenburg, on Wednesday.

Ambassador Meyenburg invited Al-Manqoush to attend a high-level ministerial conference entitled “Safety of Journalists, Protection of the Media and the Protection of Democracy.” 

According to the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the conference will be held from 3-4 November, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Meyenburg retweeted the Libyan Foreign Ministry’s statement, saying that he discussed bilateral issues with Al-Mangoush, without noting the invitation to the ministerial conference.

In telephone calls made by the Al Shahid newspaper with a number of journalists and media personnel in Tripoli, many of them expressed their “anger and discontent with the invitation addressed to Al-Mangoush to represent the safety of the press and media in Libya.” Al Shahid’s Editor-in-Chief hopes for the safety of all journalists in Tripoli, and other Libyan cities.

The journalists and media personnel requested anonymity for fear of persecution by armed groups funded by the government of Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba, which came to power through political talks in Geneva, under the auspices of the United Nations in 2020. This was until the country would hold elections in December 2021.

“The invitation was sent to the wrong person,” an international media journalist said, adding that “Al-Mangoush, through the instructions she takes from the State Minister of Politics and Communication, Walid Ellafi who controls the media, cannot express the safety of journalists in Libya, especially in Tripoli.”

“We suffer from abuse, and we do not enjoy a minimum degree of freedom of expression in the capital. This is in light of the government’s complete control over all newspapers and media outlets, preventing them from working freely,” the journalist said angrily.

“The Libyan authorities are not in a position, nor qualified to file a complaint regarding the protection of journalists from the oppression of armed groups funded by the government of Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba, which can retaliate against anyone who criticises the government’s mismanagement,” he noted.

He continued that they often “count on the missions of the international community to pressure the authorities.” International organisations and independent activists, have repeated calls to the international community to pressure the local authorities in Libya to provide a safe environment for the press to work freely.

“It seems that hope is fading that the international community will be the safe shore to protect journalists. Today, we see the Republic of Austria provide an invitation to Al-Mangoush, which is part of the arbitrariness of the media through a department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Foreign Media Department (FMD).”

The FMD was established a few years before the outbreak of the 2011 revolution against the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

According to FMD regulations, it is primarily concerned with “registering and documenting the international press and protecting them.” At the current time, it has become a tool for authoritarianism and controlling the work of the media. It imposes the coverage of certain events, rewords the news, and has stopped work and suspended journalists.

The FMD is headed by former Aljazeera and Muslim-Brotherhood linked reporter, Badr Ashnaiba. He resided in Turkey, until he was appointed as the new head in August. He replaced Ahmad Al-Arbad after several complaints.

According to a source from the Foreign Ministry, Al-Arbad remains in his position, without having direct contact with journalists, and is giving instructions to Ashnaiba from behind closed doors. No improvements have been witnessed since the appointment of Ashnaiba.

 Early in October, a high-ranking Turkish delegation visited Tripoli to sign a memorandum of understanding. However, the government-affiliated Communications and Media Department sent invitations to specific pro-government media, without the presence of independent international media.

Press reports stated that Libyan TV channels broadcasting from Istanbul, and others linked to extremist Islamic groups covered the press conference between Al-Mangoush and her Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

A Libyan official, who requested anonymity, said that PM Dbaiba directly ordered invitations not to be sent to any international media bodies. He stressed that the orders were issued directly from Dbaiba and Ellafi to “not submit an invitation to any international media entity, and only the channels loyal to them, and when asked, they can give excuses  by ‘rolling the ball between the FMD and government media office to waste time’.”

In an incident in September, Adel Jumaa, Minister of State for Prime Minister Affairs, berated journalist, Zainab Sharada at the end of a press conference that he was holding, saying, “Do not attend any of my conferences again, because you speak a lot.” Sharada immediately replied “I was talking to my colleague next to me about the question, and I am not at your home to expel me.”

The video clip went viral on social media platforms, as many stated that Jumaa “is a person known to insult and abuse journalists since he was the Deputy Minister of Education in the former government.”

A human rights activist said, “What democracy is Ambassador Meyenburg talking about so that the media in Libya can practice their work to cover it? Does he mean the elections that were supposed to be held in December, but were spoiled by the Dbaiba government? And today he is inviting the Foreign Minister to talk about the safety of the press and democracy!”

“Or will [ the ambassador ] talk about the security grip and the suppression of freedom of expression of any media person who tries to work on any report,”the journalist continued. ”The best evidence for this is the systematic ban to cover migration issues and prevent journalists from entering the detention centers of the Ministry of Interior, where the migrants and refugees face various types of torment and starvation, including sex in exchange for food and water.”

He added, “What we hear and see is disgusting. Is that what the international community sees as part of the suffering of the press in Libya? In the name of democracy? In light of fighting that takes place almost weekly, until the sounds of bullets echo across in the neighbourhoods of the capital.”

On Thursday morning, the Austrian Embassy retweeted a local newspaper that published news about the outbreak of clashes on Wednesday evening in the Ghout Al -Shaal area.

The Embassy said that it “is concerned about the heavy artillery clashes that occurred last night in a densely populated area, less than two kilometers from the Ambassador’s residence.”
When clashes erupt in Tripoli or other regions and cities under the control of the Dbaiba government, it becomes increasingly difficult for journalists to cover, despite wearing the appropriate uniform, clearly identifying them as “Press” for protection.

“Independent field work has become impossible in light of the presence of the Dbaiba government, especially Al-Manghoush’s FMD,” said a photographer. “Armed groups arrest the press, and the administration do not even bother themselves to ask the reasons. ”

He said, “the camera has become a weapon in the eyes of the local authorities, despite the spread of militias that have real and dangerous weapons.”

An independent writer asked, “How can Najla Al-Mangoush represent the safety of journalists in a ministerial conference, while her ministry does not even have a media office or a speaker to communicate with media outlets?”

I think that the Guinness book of world records should visit Libya and record Dbaiba’s Ministry of Foreign Ministry as the first ministry in the world that does not have a media office,” the writer said while laughing. “We do not know if the Republic of Austria and its Ambassador in Libya, Mr. Christophe, is aware of this information and the difficulty of journalism in Libya to provide an invitation to the FM,” they questioned.

He added, “Al-Manghoush will not say the truth and will present a flowery speech showing the situation of the press in Libya as if we are living a rosy time. She won’t mention the difficulties that we face based on on orders from Dbaiba and Ellafi”

The writer said that journalism in Libya has become “a minefield, planted by the local authorities themselves to hinder our work.”

“Every time we go out for field work, we are tense because there is a real possibility that we would be arrested by armed groups, preventing us from working on the pretext of safety,” said a reporter and photographer for an international media outlet. “We are working secretly to protect ourselves, there is no freedom for the press in Tripoli,” he emphasised.

“If we are arrested and the cameras are confiscated, we must find a solution through personal relations and friends. The FMD was originally founded to protect and defend us, but we find it criticising us against the armed groups, claiming that we do not work according to the law, despite having all necessary permits for field work.”

They added sarcastically “the invitation will be suitable for Al-Manghoush to show off her expensive elegance, and not to express our safety. Al-Manghoush does not know the meaning of safety when talking about the press.”

In September, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the international community to “take a firm and strong position on the need to protect press freedom in the face of threats and pressures against journalists from armed groups.”

“We are the number one victim of the political, security, and military tensions in Libya. Our work requires us to tell the truth, which is not wanted by the leaders of armed groups that are funded and supported by the Dbaiba government.”a local media journalist said.

A number of organisations and associations concerned with freedom of the press, and human rights issued a statement on Monday to cancel resolution 811-2022 regarding audio-visual media. They described it as “dangerous to the diversity and plurality of the media scene in Libya. As well as threatening the integrity of any upcoming electoral process,” according to a statement signed by nine organizations.

The statement claimed these conditions “violate media freedom.” These include “requiring the approval of the security authorities or the approval of the Libyan intelligence service, which allows the security and military authorities to interfere in the regulation of audio-visual media.”

Another local media journalist working from Istanbul said “Al-Mangoush will only attend to show off herself, nothing more, nothing less. She knows nothing about the level of suffering that journalists are experiencing, so she represents us at a ministerial conference for the safety of journalists.”

“Her presence will be limited to reciting a statement with meaningless words, that are not applied on the ground.”

Since the fall of the former regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, armed conflicts have threatened press freedom and the safety of journalists in the country.