The held 'journalists', Gareth Montgomery (left) and Nicholas Davies
The Commander of a Libyan militia in the city of Misurata that has detained two British journalists working for Iran's English-language Press TV has been reported saying on Sunday, that the two men were being held for illegal entry and possible espionage.
Faraj Swehli told reporters a ta news conference in Tripoli, "With regards to the two detainees from Britain, they were in Libya illegally, without a visa or entry stamp," adding that the men were still being questioned because incriminating evidence had been found in their possession.
The two men, Nicholas Davies and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson were seized by the Swehli militia, according to rights groups that have called for their release, while they were reportedly filming in the capital, Tripoli.
Swehli told reporters that the suspicious conduct of the journalists led his men to track the pair as they moved around Tripoli and conducted interviews with different ministries of the interim government. He said that their conduct and movements within the capital were suspicious from the outset, that is why they monitored them.
The commander also confirmed that the journalists had been detained because they were found filming in a sensitive area of the city at approximately 2:00 am (local time) nearly two weeks ago.
Press TV had said on February 24 that two of its journalists had been detained in Misurata, but did not say why.
Later, Swehli said, the militia found out the journalists had no entry stamps or visas, while their passports showed that they had travelled in and out of China. He said the "evidence" he laid in front of journalists included an Israeli army bandage and photographs of men - who Swehli identified as the journalists in question - carrying weapons. He said "This is only issued by the Israeli army."
Suleiman al-Fortiya, a member of the National Transitional Council representing Misrata, who sat next to the commander during the news conference.
Swehli and Suleiman al-Fortiya, a member of the National Transitional Council, NTC, representing Misurata screened a shaky video of a jubilant man in a cowboy hat dancing at a Tripoli roundabout in the company of an armed man who sat in a car blasting out loud music.
The commander said the men were in good condition, and added that British diplomats had visited them on a daily basis.
Swehli also acknowledged that he had received an order from the interior ministry to release them, but said the pair would remain in detention until investigations were completed. "If we conclude that they are spies, we will hand them over to our intelligence services," he said.
The commander declined to give a specific date when the detainees would be handed over to the interior or defence ministries. "We want to know who is behind these people. Those who detained them are revolutionaries. Those who should carry out an investigation is the state but where is the state?
"This is a transition phase with no institutions so every citizen must be alert," continued Fortiya, who reportedly praised the brigade for acting to preserve the country's security and sovereignty.
Swehli and Fortiya both stressed that journalists were welcome in Libya as long as they followed correct procedures, while also warning that not all journalists are what they seem. "Whoever thinks Libya is a house without doors is wrong," Swehli said.
The BBC has reported that the office of the Libyan prime minister and the interior ministry knew nothing of the allegations of spying. It added that efforts by the interim government and the British embassy to persuaded the miitia to release the two men into official custody met with refusal.