Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) should immediately revoke a new law that bans insults against the people of Libya or its institutions, Human Rights Watch said today. The law also prohibits criticism of the country’s 2011 revolution and glorification of the deposed former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The law violates Libya’s provisional constitutional covenant and international human rights law, both of which guarantee free speech, Human Rights Watch said.
“This legislation punishes Libyans for what they say, reminiscent of the dictatorship that was just overthrown,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It will restrict free speech, stifle dissent, and undermine the principles on which the Libyan revolution was based.”
Under Law 37, passed on May 2, 2012, spreading “false or vicious news” or “propaganda” that harms “military efforts to defend the country, terrorizes people, or weakens the morale of citizens” is a criminal offense, punishable with imprisonment for an unspecified amount of time. Included in “propaganda” is glorification of Gaddafi, his regime, and his sons. If the offensive statements damage the country, the law says, the offender can be sentenced to life in prison.
Anyone who does anything to “damage the February 17 Revolution” can be charged with a crime under the law and sent to prison. February 17 refers to the start of the popular uprising that overthrew Gaddafi in 2011.
Charges can also be brought against anyone who “insults Islam, or the prestige of the state or its institutions or judiciary, and every person who publicly insults the Libyan people, slogan or flag.”
The ban on damaging the February 17 Revolution is apparently based on article 195 of Libya’s current penal code, drafted and implemented under Gaddafi’s rule, which bans any “damage to the great al-Fateh Revolution or its leader.” The al-Fateh Revolution brought Gaddafi to power in 1969.
Under the previous government, criticizing Gaddafi or the al-Fateh Revolution was punishable by death. Individuals were regularly imprisoned for criticizing the government, some of them under article 195 of the Libyan penal code.
“It seems the NTC has done a ‘cut and paste’ job with the Gaddafi-era laws,” Whitson said.
A group of Libyan human rights lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they will challenge Law 37 before the country’s supreme court.
Libya’s constitutional covenant, passed on August 3, 2011, includes a chapter on human rights and freedoms. Article 14 ensures freedom of opinion and speech, as well as assembly.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), governments may only restrict the right to freedom of expression to protect public morals if the restriction conforms to strict tests of necessity and proportionality and is non-discriminatory, including on the grounds of religion or belief. The newly enacted law fails to meet that test, Human Rights Watch said. Libya is a party to both the ICCPR and the African Charter.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its 2011 General Comment on the ICCPR’s article 19, held that the right to freedom of expression protects speech that might be deemed offensive or hurtful to followers of a particular religion, unless the speech in question amounts to “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” It also said that “States Parties [to the ICCPR] should not prohibit criticism of institutions.” The Human Rights Committee is considered the authoritative interpreter of the ICCPR.
Human Rights Watch called on governments supporting Libya’s transition, as well as the UN mission in Libya, to condemn the newest law strongly, and other unlawful attempts to restrict free speech, expression, and assembly.
“This law is a slap in the face for all those who were imprisoned under Gaddafi’s laws criminalizing political speech, and who fought for a new Libya where human rights are respected,” Whitson said. “Libya’s new leaders should know that laws restricting what people can say can lead to a new tyranny.”
Amnesty International couldn’t resist the opportunity to use this new law to promote propaganda about the former regime. Disgusting.
Amnesty International Condemns Libyan Law Restricting Freedom of Speech as “Eerie Reminder” of Gaddafi Era
Amnesty International today condemned a new Libyan law forbidding the “glorification” of the deposed leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, saying it is an “eerie reminder” of laws he passed to stamp dissent.
Law 37 of 2012 on the Criminalization of the Glorification of the Dictator was passed Wednesday by the National Transitional Council. It carries prison sentences for spreading false rumors, propaganda or information with the aim of harming national defense, “terrorizing people” or “weakening citizens’ morale” during war time. The law imposes life imprisonment if such actions “harm the country.”
“This new legislation is an eerie reminder of draconian legislation that was used to stamp out dissent during al-Gaddafi’s brutal four-decade rule. Libyans took to the streets in February of last year and paid a heavy price to get rid of such repressive practices, not to see them reintroduced,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Glorifying “al-Gaddafi, or his political system, or his ideas, or children” is considered to be an act of “sensationalist propaganda” according to the new law.
The law also includes vague provisions for punishment and prison for anyone who harms “the February 17 Revolution.” Punishment is also applied for those “offending” Islam, the state and its institutions, or for “publicly offending the Libyan people.”
An NTC official told Amnesty International that the law aims to protect the sensibilities of victims of al-Gaddafi’s crimes, and to promote national reconciliation. Another official pointed out that the law was needed because some teachers continued to glorify al-Gaddafi’s rule in schools, threatening the “February 17 Revolution.”
Not only does the law run counter to Libya’s international obligations, but it is also not compliant with Libya’s Constitutional Declaration, adopted on August, 3 2011, which guarantees freedom of expression.
“Free speech must be guaranteed for all, not only supporters of the new government,” said Luther. “We fear that this law will have a chilling effect on the emerging media in Libya and may lead to the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience.”
Since the fall of al-Gaddafi, his alleged loyalists have faced reprisals and revenge attacks in a climate of impunity. Thousands of people continue to be detained outside the framework of the law, on accusations of supporting or fighting for al-Gaddafi. To date, none have been charged.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.