Libyan government releases British journalist

A British journalist held by the Libyan government for six weeks has been released, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

It emerged yesterday that Nigel Chandler, who has previously worked as a freelance journalist for the BBC, was detained on 5 April alongside American journalists Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley and Spanish photographer Manuel Varela, who works under the name Manu Brabo.

The group was detained near the eastern oil town of Brega for illegally entering the country but Chandler is said to have been held separately from his three colleagues. All four were released yesterday.

“We can confirm that a British national previously detained in Libya has been released and we are providing consular assistance,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday. She confirmed Chandler was the freed Briton.

Gillis, a freelance journalist, told journalists at the Rixos Hotel in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, that she and three colleagues were in good health.

She said the group had been freed the day after a judge gave them a one year suspended sentence for entering the country illegally.

There remained a question mark today over the whereabouts of UK-based photographer Anton Hammerl, who is believed to have been seized with the group. Gillis said she had not seen him.

The 41-year-old, who lives in Surbiton, Surrey, but has South African and Austrian citizenship, is thought to have been held separately in or around Tripoli.

The award-winning photographer, who has covered conflicts in the past in Africa, had been working in Libya for a week as a freelance before he was detained.

Hammerl’s wife Penny Sukhraj has not heard from her husband since his capture and said the family still had no word on his whereabouts.

In a statement she said: “We are so pleased for the families of James Foley, Clare Gillis, Manu Brabo and Nigel Chandler that they will be on their way home soon, but we are understandably devastated that there is still a question mark over Anton.

“The reports from the Libyan authorities regarding Anton over the past 24 hours have been contradictory and we call on the South African and Austrian governments to please do everything they can to confirm Anton’s status urgently.

“Our lives have come to a standstill and we desperately hope that the released journalists will be able to provide some insight into Anton’s situation. At this point they seem to be our best hope.”

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim yesterday claimed no other reporters were being held.

“At the moment I think we have released all journalists, unless some have been captured in the past two days and I haven’t heard about it,” he said.

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