Gaddafi violence against Libya civilians exaggerated, says British group

Delegation to Libya says it has found no evidence of dissent and accuses western media of bias towards Nato military action

April 19, 2011

(Harriet Sherwood) In other circumstances they could have been a group of British package tourists, clad in identical T-shirts, clambering on and off buses with cameras hanging around their necks.

But Libya has no tourists now, let alone of the package variety. And the 13 Britons who toured the west of the country over eight days, had a self-declared mission: to “find facts” about the situation in Gaddafi-controlled Libya to counter what they described as the manipulation and distortion of the western media.

The group, calling itself British Civilians for Peace in Libya, had found each other through word-of-mouth and the internet. They were, they said, academics, lawyers, a doctor, humanitarian campaigners and “independent journalists”, collectively outraged about the attacks on Libyan government forces by “the biggest military force in the world” – Nato.

For some, it was their first visit to Libya. The delegation’s leader, David Roberts, 55, from Leicester, said he had been several times before. A Dave Roberts, also from Leicester, is quoted in a web report as addressing a youth conference in Tripoli in 1999, ending his speech with a rousing cry of “Long liveMuammar Gaddafi.”

At a press conference at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, before the group left for the Tunisian border, Roberts and his colleagues set out their “interim conclusions”.

They had received numerous reports of civilian fatalities caused by Nato bombing, they said, although they presented no evidence. They had uncovered nothing that suggested anti-government protests or dissent, dismissing extensive footage of demonstrators being shot which was obtained and broadcast by the BBC. They had “witnessed substantial support for the government by broad sections of society”, while admitting that they had been accompanied by government officials in whose presence no opposition-sympathising Libyan can speak openly.

The group had not visited Misrata, the rebel-held enclave under siege by Gaddafi forces, nor had it investigated the issue of detainees. It had not asked to visit any prisons, and had chosen not to examine the case of Iman al-Obeidi, the Libyan woman who claimed she had been raped multiple times by Gaddafi troops.

Most of the delegation’s venom was directed at representatives of the British media sitting before it, who were accused of distortion, manipulation and of “failing in their duty to report the conflict truthfully”.

Members of the delegation queued at the microphone to attack the British media, saying it was partisan towards the Nato military action. “Some of the reports from Benghazi and Misrata are totally one-sided,” said one. “There is a very high degree of distortion,” an Italian film-maker who accompanied the delegation said.

They expressed sympathy for the Libyan regime’s restrictions placed on foreign media, which is not allowed to leave the Rixos without a government official and whose movements, even with minders, are highly circumscribed.

“One of the reasons you are being locked up is because your independence is being questioned,” Roberts said.

“It’s an obvious point – the [Libyan] government feels it is in a war situation, and feels the western press is facilitating this,” said another, implying that the media might call in co-ordinates for airstrikes to Nato.

“There are media who identify with this crime [Nato bombing],” said one. They said there was “a groundswell of anger against the western media” among Libyans – sentiments not witnessed by the media corps itself.

The press conference became heated as members of the group wrestled the microphone from their colleagues. Eventually the group departed, copies of the conclusions of their “fact-finding mission” tucked under arms and in briefcases. It would use them as a launch pad for a campaign in the UK, Roberts said. And it intended to mount a similar mission to eastern Libya next month.

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