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Freedom now rings from one mountaintop radio station in western Libya

Radio Free Nalut's change from propaganda tool for Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to rebel rallying cry highlights a new push to spread the revolution Libya's Qaddafi-controlled west.

By Staff writer / April 28, 2011

After years of having to broadcast propaganda for Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, presenters at Radio Free Nalut are now free to broadcast pro-revolutionary messages.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images


Nalut, Libya

Before Libya’s revolution kicked off, imposing control was easy at the Nalut radio station.

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Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s state security agents occupied the same floor of the same building, forcing the station to broadcast regime propaganda across much of Libya’s restive western mountains.

Radio guests were questioned before they were allowed on air. Files were kept on all the staff. One agent listened carefully to every word – and took notes. Free speech was impossible.

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But this week the station has had a revolutionary makeover, and is beginning life anew as rebel-run “Radio Free Nalut.”

The new mission? To spread anti-Qaddafi sentiment everywhere along the 90-mile-long Nafusah mountain, where rebels are making gains against loyalist soldiers after more than two months of fighting.

The radio station's change highlights a fresh surge in rebel confidence sweeping through swaths of Qaddafi-controlled western Libya – and a new push to spread the revolution through still-wavering towns.

“We run programs that make people excited for fighting Qaddafi,” says station director Tariq Mohammed, standing amid his empire of old-style magnetic tape players and studio microphones stuck with rebel flags. “Some towns do not like [Qaddafi], but do not have a chance to throw him out. Others are still with Qaddafi and we are trying to convince them to get rid of him.”

Power of radio

The power of radio across this rugged desert region – defined by the precipitously steep mountain that stretches east from Libya’s border with Tunisia to south of the nation's capital, Tripoli, forming a remote band of sandstone on the northern cusp of the Sahara Desert – is evident in the proximity of the state security office.

When Qaddafi ruled here, programming was all about the president and the ideas of his “Green Book” that sought to blend socialism and democracy, and often used the word “freedom” – though little of that could be found in these dark offices.

But now residents of Nalut – where the monument to the Green Book was pulled down in the central square by a bulldozer, as crowds cheered on Feb. 20 – speak of Qaddafi in the past tense, even though the Libyan leader still controls most of the west of the country and the capital.

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