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Gunmen attack Libyan TV station, abduct journalists

Guards stand outside Alassema TV station in Tripoli. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)

New York, March 8, 2013--Gunmen stormed the offices of a television station in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday amid a protest outside the station's studios, according to news reports. The gunmen abducted at least five journalists and media workers, the reports said, although all were released within 24 hours.

None of the station's employees were reported injured. Mohamed al-Huni and Mahmoud al-Sharkisi, both presenters for Alassema, as well as Mohamed Atif, an office secretary, were released the same day, news reports said. The station's owner, Jomaa al-Osta, and its former manager, Nabil al-Shebani, were released today, Alassema said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The attack occurred while protesters demonstrated outside the studios of Alassema TV, a station that news reports said is seen as supportive of the National Forces Alliance. The secular coalition, also known as the NFA, is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, who served as interim prime minister of Libya during the civil war that toppled Muammar Qaddafi. The NFA defeated a Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition in last year's legislative elections.

The day before, protesters had seized members of the Libyan General National Congress in an attempt to force them to pass a bill banning former members of the Qaddafi regime from holding positions of power, according to news reports. If the bill passes, Jibril, along with almost every other major government leader, would be banned from holding office.

"The Libyan authorities cannot allow such blatant acts of violent intimidation to go unpunished," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "They must do more to ensure the safety of all journalists, and bring the gunmen who attacked Alassema to justice. Anything less will send a signal that independent journalism can be silenced with a gun."

Facebook posts by pro-Qaddafi groups claimed that another journalist, Malik al-Sharif, was also abducted and later released. CPJ could not independently verify the report.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya released a statement hours before the attack expressing its concern over recent attacks and threats against freedom of expression. An Alassema TV crew was attacked and beaten by security guards outside the General National Congress last month, news reports said.

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