The President’s accusations of “fake news” have cast doubt on a report by CNN that earlier this month exposed slave markets in the North African country.
Reporter Jenan Moussa flagged an article by a Libyan TV channel that said Trump’s tweets raised the possibility “that [CNN] has published the report of slavery in Libya to raise a political objective that is still hidden”.
Libyans were shocked by the report of the American channel on allegations of slave markets in the country. The international reaction to the story didn’t take into consideration that this was likely wrong.
Any investigation into human rights abuse was to be carried out by the Libyan Government but its ability and willingness to do so as the country continues to be riven by an ongoing civil war has been questioned.
Trump’s tweets now cast further doubt on the likelihood of action to end the slave trade in Libya.
The situation in the North African country is already dire and the migrant crisis as people cross the Mediterranean on their way to Europe is exacerbating the situation as well as continuing to feed the slave trade.
Interviews conducted by HuffPost UK over the summer with both migrants and those working in Libya and on the Mediterranean variously described people fleeing arbitrary imprisonment, torture, forced military conscription, forced prostitution, poverty as well as slavery.
Testimonies from migrants revealed some don’t intend to make their way to Europe, but find themselves stuck in situations where paying a people-smuggler to cross the Mediterranean is their only option of escaping horrific conditions in Libya.
The original CNN report showed two young men standing in the dark as an auctioneer shouts out prices, appearing to sell them for the equivalent of about $400 (£298) each.
Young African men bound for Europe are frequently caught in trafficking networks and sold for labor in Libya, where many migrants are detained, tortured, and even killed, according to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The video, which the Thomson Reuters Foundation could not independently verify, was the first footage of people being sold, said Mary Fitzgerald, an independent researcher on Libya.
Protesters gathered outside the Libyan embassies in Paris and in African capitals including Bamako, Mali and Conakry, Guinea over the weekend and on Monday, according to local news reports. A protest is planned in London later this week.
Singers and footballer added their voices, with Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, of Guinean descent, throwing up his hands in a protest symbol after scoring a goal on Saturday and posting a message for ‘those suffering slavery in Libya’ on Instagram.
“What are you waiting for to react and intervene???” wrote Ivorian reggae artist Alpha Blondy in a Facebook post addressed to African leaders.
Many Libyans used the hashtag #LibyansAgainstSlavery on Facebook and Twitter, expressing horror and disapproval.
“Those of us who work in Libya have known about this for some time, but the video really brought it to the world’s attention,” said Fitzgerald, an author of a book about Libya.
The President of the UN General Assembly said on Twitter he was “appalled” by the reports of slave auctions, and the African Union called for an immediate end to the practice.
Six years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is still a lawless state where armed groups compete for land and resources and people-smuggling networks operate with impunity.
“People are rightfully outraged, but don’t hold your breath that anything real is going to happen,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Hanan Salah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
At least 20,000 migrants are being detained in Libya, which is the main gateway for Africans to reach Europe, according to the IOM.