Radio Free Libya: Voice of Freedom Rings
Amidst the horrific bloodshed that has crippled the African nation of Libya over the last few weeks and the violence and death that is surely yet to come, a story of hope and renewal arises and travels across the radio airwaves from Bengahazi to Tripoli and Zawiyah. Benghazi Radio has been broadcasting as the “Voice of Free Libya” since 2 pm on February 21st when sound engineer Saleh Zayani announced “This is free Libya, and Tripoli is our capital.”
Zayani is joined by a group of 20 radio professionals, engineers, hosts and activists who are volunteering their time to keep Radio Free Libya broadcasting around the clock. Many of those at the station have worked for 2 decades or longer under dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s rigid censorship.
Benghazi Radio has primarily functioned as a government state channel since September 1, 1969, when Qaddafi used the station as a platform to announce his seizure of power in a bloodless coup that toppled the previous regime. On that September day over 40 years ago, Qaddafi used eerily familiar words to announce his reign. “From this moment on, Libya is a free and sovereign republic.”
Ahmed Omar el-Naili, a broadcaster at the former and current Radio Benghazi says, “It’s true that most of us used to work for the dictator. But we had little choice. Coming to work every day, it felt like a gun was being held to our heads. I’m not getting paid, but it’s an incredible relief to be speaking freely for the first time in my life.”
Local Libyans bring the broadcasters food donations in gratitude for the access they are providing them to news. Without Radio Free Libya, most Libyans would be left in the dark.
Khalid Ali was the host of “Goodnight Benghzi” until he was fired last year and threatened with death for allowing callers to criticize Qaddafi’s government. Now he is back, broadcasting as Libya ushers in a new era. “I can’t really describe what’s happening. For 15 years here, I was ordered to talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ by the government. Before, those words were completely drained of meaning. Not anymore.”
Now, Ali and his colleagues use the airwaves as they choose – encouraging their countryfolk in Tripoli to keep up the fight against Qaddafi’s army, eliciting stories of tragedy and triumph from callers across the country. They are backing former Justice Minister Mustafa Abd el-Jalil, as the leader of a provisional government. Jalil was the first member of Qaddafi’s government to break with the regime once the demonstrations were underway.
“We have more freedom than ever before. Our thinking is free now. Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t transfer and you can’t explain,” Zayani says. “I feel free. For 41 years we were prisoners.”
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