Libyan government releases 4 foreign journalists

By DIAA HADID | May 18, 2011 | 12:59 PM EDT

FILE - In this March 3, 2011 file photo, Spanish photographer Manuel Varela de Seijas Brabo, who works under the name of Manu Brabo, is seen working in Ben Gardane in Tunisia. A Libyan government spokesman says four journalists detained since early April have completed an administrative hearing and will be released Tuesday or Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gabriel Pecot, File)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Four foreign reporters held by the Libyan government for several weeks have been released and moved to a Tripoli hotel.

Clare Morgana Gillis, an American, says she and her three colleagues were freed Wednesday, a day after a judge gave them a suspended one year sentence on charges of entering the country illegally.

She told reporters based at Tripoli's Rixos Hotel that she and her colleagues as American James Foley, Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer, and Briton Nigel Chandler are fine.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Four journalists held for illegally entering the country have each been given a one-year jail sentence, which has been commuted, and should be released soon, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said that the four were in good health, but reporters staying in Tripoli were not allowed to see them.

Reporters earlier had been told that the detained journalists would be freed Tuesday or Wednesday, but Ibrahim said Wednesday that the delay was a "matter of routine checks and procedures." He did not elaborate.

The names Ibrahim listed on Wednesday of the reporters to be released were different from those he gave to reporters in Tripoli a day earlier.

On Wednesday he said that the journalists who have gone through a hearing and sentencing are Spanish photographer Manu Brabo; American news agency reporter James Wright Foley; Tunisian Lutfi Ben-Qasim, and Nigel Chandler, identified as British.

On Tuesday, American Clare Morgana Gillis, a freelance journalist taken into custody with Foley, also was on the Ibrahim's list.

Ibrahim said Wednesday he wasn't sure of Gillis' status.

No one with the name Nigel Chandler previously had been reported missing in Libya. But a British journalist named Nigel Taylor, who formerly worked at the BBC, went missing in March. The discrepancy could not immediately be resolved.

The charge of illegal entry into the country generally means that a reporter has arrived without a visa. Many journalists have entered Libya without visas, especially if they were covering fighting from the rebel-held areas.

Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years, has been using his military and militias to try to put down the rebel uprising.

The fate of a South African photojournalist remains unknown, Ibrahim said. He repeated that Anton Hammerl — who went missing at about the same time that Foley and Gillis were detained — was not in Libyan government custody.

"What I know is that they haven't been able to locate him" Ibrahim said. "If it was the case — that we found him — he would be released," he said.

Ibrahim said the government had detained and freed some 60 reporters in all.

It was not known how many reporters remained in government custody.