BBC's 'Tripoli Witness' Comes Out Of Hiding

Six months ago, the BBC's reporter in Tripoli went into hiding. Rana Jawad has reported from Libya for the past seven years, but after fears for her safety became too great, she resorted to publishing anonymous reports under the name Tripoli Witness on the BBC website. Now that rebels largely control Tripoli, Jawad has returned to the airwaves. She talked to Steve Inskeep about living undercover.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Throughout Libya's uprising, the BBC had a source described only as Tripoli Witness. He wrote stories, sometimes published on the Web, sometimes read on the radio by an actor, offering insight into daily life. Now that rebels largely control the city, Tripoli Witness has revealed his identity. And he is actually she.

GREENE: She is BBC reporter Rana Jawad. Most Western reporters who spent time in Tripoli, including myself, were required to stay at the Rixos, a closely monitored hotel. Jawad stayed home.

INSKEEP She'd been living in Tripoli for seven years, had recently married a Libyan man and decided to go underground. She told Libyan authorities she was taking a career break.

Ms. RANA JAWAD (BBC reporter): I think at a time like this, you do tend to weigh your priorities in life. And it was a mixture of things I needed to do, because it was my career and I had a duty to the people who'd come to know me and what the BBC does in the last seven years.

But also, it was the question of security and safety for my husband's family, particularly because they were Libyan.

INSKEEP: Meaning that if you went with the other reporters, Western reporters, stayed at the Rixos, reported the facts, which would've been inconvenient for the regime, that your family might've been penalized for whatever you were reporting.

Ms. JAWAD: I was in a completely different position. I've been here for seven years. I know a lot of people. I knew exactly what was going on. So I wouldn't have been able to get anything done, because not only would I have exposed myself, I would've had to pretend that I don't know people here. I wouldn't have known what was going on. And I can't do that.

INSKEEP: Now, what did you tell the Libyan authorities - because obviously, they knew you were there before. What did you tell them when they came to you and said, OK, we're putting all the foreign reporters in the Rixos, please report to the Rixos Hotel?

Ms. JAWAD: They didn't ask me to report to the Rixos Hotel. They asked me to come to a press conference the very next day after the protests here in Tripoli. And when they invited me, I said, you know, there is shooting outside. I can't exactly step out of my house right now and come across town to your press conference.

And their answer was completely delusional, because they said, oh, no, no. There's nothing wrong. It's all lies, what you saw. And I reported some of, you know, what they were calling lies in the foreign media the night before.

So it was then and then, really, I felt like, you know, I told them, listen. I'm on a career break, and it's for personal reasons.

INSKEEP: So what were you really doing during this career break? How were you gathering information and getting it to London, and on from there to the world?

Ms. JAWAD: I would make the rounds across Tripoli. It would take me about two days to gather enough material to put in those pieces that I filed once a week. And my husband - who I will forever be grateful to, because he was an integral part of it - he did help me gather information from his own sources and his friends, people he trusted.

Trust became a really big issue. The paranoia consumes you when you live under a regime like this, and particularly when this is a country that went to war, and not any kind of war. It was a conflict - or is a conflict between the government and the people.

I moved apartments in the beginning of the conflict, because we didn't trust one of our neighbors who had offhandedly made a comment to my husband. My husband is a native of Benghazi. And that man, our neighbor, we were afraid of him, frankly, because he was from Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, and we knew he worked at Colonel Gadhafi's compound here in Tripoli. And he was part of some kind of security apparatus. And as soon as he made that comment, we just packed our bags and we moved to my husband's family home.

INSKEEP: So what's it feel like now that Tripoli seems to be largely in the hands of rebels?

Ms. JAWAD: Overall, people are just - are relieved that the conflict is coming to an end. They know that the regime is over. But I think there is still very much a sense of worry that if Colonel Gadhafi isn't caught, he's still very much a man who is capable of getting into people's heads.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one other thing. We mentioned that your husband is Libyan. How long have you guys been married?

Ms. JAWAD: Well, we celebrated our first anniversary on April the 12th.

INSKEEP: Oh, in the middle of the revolution.

Ms. JAWAD: (unintelligible) conflict. Yeah, it was a pretty dismal scene, to be honest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: The dismal scene. Did you go out? Did you celebrate at all?

Ms. JAWAD: There was nowhere to go. Nothing was open. Everything was closed. I mean, yeah. I baked a cake, though, and we celebrated with the rest of the family, because we're all living under one roof.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Rana Jawad, thanks very much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

Ms. JAWAD: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: The BBC'S Rana Jawad spent six months reporting underground from Tripoli.

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