Hey, England, how do you like the Arab Spring now? According to Reuters, two British journalists working for Press TV were detained late last month in Libya and have been accused of being spies. Faraj al-Swehli, commander of the Swehli brigade, said his men had found among the journalists' possessions official Libyan documents, equipment used by the Israeli military and footage of them firing weapons.
"We believe they are spies," Swehli said in Tripoli. He said it was too early to say what country they were spying for, but that this would be established by their investigation. "After we have finished the investigation we are going to transfer them to the state authorities to pursue the legal process against them."
The two have been named as Nicholas Davies and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson. They were arrested on February 22 in Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of the capital. They are now being held in a Swehli brigade base in central Tripoli.
The commander, speaking at a news conference where he was flanked by subordinates in camouflage uniforms (and wearing tennis shoes), said the two did not have Libyan entry visas in their passports. He showed a grey plastic packet containing a field dressing with the words "Made in Israel," on it, which he said had been found on the two journalists. "These are used by the Israeli military," said Swehli (you just can't fool these militia types, can you?). He said the two had in their possession Libyan documents listing members of a Tripoli militia killed in a clash with a rival group late last year, and lists of sub-Saharan African mercenaries who fought alongside the forces of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi (Oh, well hang them, I mean what good journalist covering a civil war would want information like that? They must be spy's).
To further prove his allegations of spying, Swehli showed the news conference images he said had been recovered from the two Britons where they could be seen test-firing a gun. "Is this a picture of a journalist?" asked Suleiman al-Fortia, an official from Misrata who sat alongside Swehli, as he pointed to the images. Fortia said investigators had also found pornography on the Britons' laptops, but that it could not be shown for reasons of decency.
Other footage appeared to show the journalists late at night in Tripoli's Algiers Square, dancing to Western pop music coming from a car's sound system (yep, spying for sure now).
Much of the evidence unveiled on Sunday could apply to many of the foreign journalists who covered Libya's chaotic conflict. Reporters routinely entered the country without going through normal border procedures, collected documents found on the battlefield, and took pictures of themselves posing with weapons to keep as mementos. I have seen several reports filed showing journalists firing weapons as part of the reports they were filing.
The militia holding the two Britons is one of dozens in Libya which helped topple Gaddafi but are now operating beyond the control of the new national authorities. They are 'resisting government' requests for them to disarm.
Swehli, the militia commander, said the two men were being well treated, and that they had been visited in detention by British consular officials and representatives from New York-based Human Rights Watch. "I did not hit the prisoners and I am ready to stand before a court if there is any evidence against me," said Swehli. (Since that accusation has not yet been made, I can not help but wonder why he is so fast to make that kind of denial)
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, asked to comment on the spying accusations, said: "We are aware that two British nationals have been arrested in Libya. We are providing consular assistance." (don't you love diplomats?)
One interesting part of all this is the fact that Press TV is based in, are you ready? Tehran, broadcasts around the world in English and often employs journalists from English-speaking countries.
Yep, 2 Brits, working for the Iranians, accused of spying by a country that would not exist if not for help provided by the Brits (and Western countries) because they had field bandages made in Israel, film of themselves covering the war and behaved like Westerners. Sounds like a plot from a made for TV mystery series, doesn't it? You just can not make this stuff up.
Live Long and Prosper...