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Thu 10 Mar 2011 10:37 AM

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BBC news team tortured by Libyan security forces

BBC claims Gaddafi’s men subjected crew to fake executions, team saw Libyans tortured

BBC news team tortured by Libyan security forces
Libyan rebels attack government troops as a natural gas facility burns on the frontline on March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf, Libya.

A BBC news team was detained by Libyan security forces, beaten and subjected to mock execution as they attempted to reach the battle-torn city of Zawiya, the British broadcaster said.

The three were beaten with fists, knees and rifles, then hooded and subjected to mock executions, the BBC said, by members of Libya's army and secret police.

The men were detained on Monday and have flown out of Libya after their 21-hour ordeal.

A senior Libyan government official later apologized for the crew’s treatment.

The BBC said on its website that it "strongly condemns this abusive treatment.”

Zawiya has become the country’s latest battleground, as Gaddafi’s forces try to wrest it from rebel control.

This is the one of the first reports of Western journalists being attacked by Gaddafi’s forces during the current unrest. Thus far, the leader has welcomed journalists and has repeatedly said that all is well in the country, despite video and photo evidence that indicate it is in a state of civil war,

Forces loyal to Gaddafi have pounded Zawiya, 50km from Tripoli, with artillery and tanks all week.

The BBC said its team was taken to military barracks in Tripoli, where they were blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten.

"We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line - facing the wall. I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone's neck. I saw him and he screamed at me,” said detainee Chris Cobb-Smith. "Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed."

A second crew member - Feras Killani, a correspondent of Palestinian descent was singled out for repeated beatings and told by captors that they did not like his reporting of the uprising. He was also accused of being a spy.

Cameraman Goktay Koraltan the team saw evidence of torture against Libyan detainees, including many from Zawiya.

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

"Four of them [detainees] were in a very bad situation,” added Killani. “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."

"The safety of our staff is our primary concern especially when they are working in such difficult circumstances and it is essential that journalists working for the BBC, or any media organisation, are allowed to report on the situation in Libya without fear of attack," Liliane Landor, languages controller of BBC Global News, said in a statement.

"Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country."

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