BBC journalists trying to reach the war-torn city of Zawiya in Libya were captured and beaten up by Colonel Gaddafi’s security forces.

The three men were detained for 21 hours and were blindfolded, beaten with fists and guns and subjected to mock executions before being released, the BBC reports.

The Western city of Zawiya has become one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in recent days with pro-Gaddafi forces desperate to grab the city back from rebel control.

Foreign journalists are currently banned from reporting on the conflict in Libya.

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The BBC Arabic Service were detained at an army roadblock as they made their way to Zawiya on Monday.

The three were then taken to a military barracks in Tripoli, where they were mistreated.

One of the journalists, Chris Cobb-Smith, said: “We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line – facing the wall.”
“I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone’s neck. I saw him and he screamed at me.Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed.”

Another member of the team, Feras Killani was singled out for repeated beatings and accused of being a spy while the third member of the team, Goktay Koraltan saw evidence of torture against Libyan detainees.

“I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them [other detainees] were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming,” Koraltan said.

The Libyan government later apologised to the BBC for the mens’ ordeal.

In a statement the BBC said: “The safety of our staff is our primary concern especially when they are working in such difficult circumstances and it is essential that journalists working for the BBC, or any media organisation, are allowed to report on the situation in Libya without fear of attack.”
“Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country.”

The journalists have now flown home.

Meanwhile squatters calling themselves Topple the Tyrants have occupied a £10 north London residence believed to be owned by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam and have vowed to stay there until the property’s assets are returned to the Libyan people.