South Korean, 3 Filipinos freed after captivity in Libya

Seoul said the 62-year-old South Korean national was freed after 315 days of captivity. (Screengrab)
Updated 17 May 2019

South Korean, 3 Filipinos freed after captivity in Libya

  • Chung said the UAE had played a major role in the release of the hostages
  • The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said intensive efforts in coordination with the Libyan National Army led to the release of the four hostages

SEOUL: Four hostages who were kidnapped last July in Libya have been freed, the South Korean president’s office said Friday.

A South Korean and three Filipinos had been working at a water project site when they were seized by armed men.

“The South Korean worker was freed safely Wednesday afternoon, 315 days after he was abducted by a score of armed men in Libya,” Chung Eui-yong, director of the National Security Office, said at a press briefing. “Abducting a foreigner is an inhumane crime that can never be accepted by the international community.”

Chung said the kidnappers were confirmed to be members of a criminal group based in southern Libya, saying the government was still investigating the details of the kidnapping and captivity.

The South Korean worker, identified by his surname Joo, was in Abu Dhabi and is scheduled to return home on Saturday.

Chung said the UAE had played a major role in the release of the hostages.

“In particular I convey a message of special thanks from President Moon Jae-in to the UAE government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al- Nahyan for playing a decisive role in the release of Joo and other hostages without sparing any possible support.”

Moon had asked the crown prince for help with the hostage situation during a summit in February, Chung added. 

The president appointed his closest aide, Lim Jong-seok, as his special envoy in the UAE in a reshuffle after the summit.  

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said intensive efforts in coordination with the Libyan National Army led to the release of the four hostages.

“Upon receiving requests from the Philippines and South Korea, the UAE communicated with the Libyan National Army to work on releasing them and to ensure their safety. In this case, they (armed groups) did not consider that these civilians work for companies that are serving national interests of Libya and its people. The release of these innocents means reuniting them with their families, and getting them back home after a long period of suffering.”

Armed groups seized control of different parts of Libya after the toppling of authoritarian leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. 

The country has two rival administrations - one based in the east and the other in the capital, Tripoli. The Libyan National Army is known to be aligned with the eastern administration, and is fighting to drive out militias that have held Tripoli since the uprising.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Joo was in good health although his eyesight had suffered because he had been held in an enclosed space with no sunlight.

“Joo said he felt sorry as many South Korean people were worried about him,” a senior ministry official told Arab News on condition of anonymity. “He said he felt as if he had been held for 900 days, not 315 days.

The official said no ransom was paid to the kidnappers without elaborating further.    

Joo had been working in Libya for decades despite Seoul imposing travel restrictions in 2014, the official added.

The government took stronger measures for South Korean travelers to Libya, including revoking their passports, following Joo’s abduction.

“There are still four South Korean nationals in Libya, citing livelihood concerns,” said the official.

South Korea’s navy had previously dispatched a 4,000-ton destroyer to waters off Libya to conduct potential hostage release operations.

“We considered all options on the table to secure the release of hostages,” another ministry official told Arab News. “As Libya is in the middle of a civil war, the country has been thrown into almost a state of anarchy, so we put a priority on negotiations.”

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 3 min 35 sec ago

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”