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In Libya’s war, journalists themselves become part of the story

According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, two journalists have been killed and 36 detained since protests began. Thirteen remained in detention as of Monday.

By Correspondent / March 23, 2011

In this March 21 photo, from left to right, New York Times journalists Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Ambassador Levent Sahinkaya, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid pose at the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The four New York Times journalists were captured on March 15 by Qaddafi forces, later transferred to Libyan government authorities, and released on March 21.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/AP

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The publication Tuesday of four New York Times journalists’ account of their captivity by Qaddafi loyalists has put reporters working in Libya in the spotlight. The four were captured on March 15 by Qaddafi forces, later transferred to Libyan government authorities, and released on March 21.

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From the beginning of their professional training, journalists are warned against doing anything that would make them, rather than the events they’re covering, the story. But in Libya, where according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) there have been at least 36 detentions, two deaths, and various other attacks on journalists since protests began in mid-February, the danger posed to journalists is quickly becoming one of many narratives.

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Qaddafi loyalists have repeatedly threatened to treat them like “terrorists” and the government said that any journalists caught in the country without visas – most of foreign press corps there, especially in the east – would be assumed to be Al Qaeda operatives and treated as such.

Monitor reporter Dan Murphy described the change in mood after the murder of Al Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al Jaber.

Many foreign reporters in Benghazi are now preparing to move out of the city, frightened by Mr. Qaddafi’s advance, his repeated threats to treat journalists like “terrorists,” and the murder of Mr. Jaber.

... Foreign reporters at some of the city’s hotels have had their rooms searched and there’s a firm belief among Libyans here that the massive explosion at the city’s largest munitions dump last week was an act of sabotage.

Last night, even as thousands of citizens gathered outside the Benghazi courthouse to mourn and hail the murdered Jaber, waving both Qatari and "Free Libya" flags, one foreign reporter returning to his hotel was approached by two men riding on a motorbike. “Go home, go home,” they shouted at him.

It was a small incident, but something that would have been unthinkable even a week ago, when foreign reporters couldn’t even pay for their own cups of coffee or cellphone cards as Libyans here insisted foreign coverage of the uprising was crucial to their success.

Meanwhile, the Libyan government has allowed some journalists, including Monitor reporter Scott Peterson, into Tripoli under close surveillance. Those journalists are receiving tours of the destruction and fighting and attending press conferences under the heavy hand of government officials and loyalists.

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