Sawti, which means both ‘My voice’ and ‘My vote’ in Arabic, is an initiative by Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) aimed at raising awareness of the importance of freedom of expression and empowering key stakeholders to engage in a way which truly promotes and protects this fundamental human right.
Why is Sawti needed?
Despite the improvements since the years of the Gaddafi regime, Libya still faces serious challenges with regards to the protection of individuals expressing their opinions. Media practitioners and ethnic, religious and political minorities are among those groups who struggle to enjoy their freedom of expression, despite the 2011 Constitutional Declaration acknowledging the importance of this fundamental right. There is the need for human rights to be protected not only in theory, but also in practice, and to be integrated into the lives of ordinary people.
This has yet to happen in Libya, where violence is often used to silence dissenting voices. In addition, the General National Congress (GNC) has adopted legislation which significantly hinders free speech. Examples of such legislation are Law 65 of 2012, which unnecessarily limits peaceful assembly, and Law 5 of 2014, which criminalises any action that may harm or prejudice the February 17 Revolution, as well as insulting remarks directed at the executive, judiciary, and the legislative body or any of their members.
The drafting of the new Libyan constitution is about to begin in the next months. This is a fundamental stage of the country’s democratic transition and a key opportunity for Sawti to promote the enshrinement of freedom of expression in what will be the most important document of the new democratic Libya.
What are Sawti’s goals?
Sawti is designed to address key challenges facing the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, press and information. Sawti has three main goals:
• To increase public awareness and understanding of the right to freedom of expression in Libya;
• To empower key stakeholders in Libya and equip them with the proper instruments to enforce and protect this right; and
• To promote legal protection and the development of a proper national legal framework aligned to international standards, to the aspirations of Libya’s Constitutional Declaration and those of the Libyan people.
How will Sawti achieve these goals?
To achieve its goals, Sawti will carry out a number of amazing activities:
• A social awareness campaign – Look for our short films online and on Libya Al-Ahrar. We will also be distributing pamphlets aimed at informing citizens on the right to freedom of expression and its related guarantees. Our first video is out now. Watch it here and share it on Facebook and Twitter. We are also in the process of creating our next film. If you have a great idea, share it with us here.
• A human rights expression competition – This competition is an exciting opportunity for everyone who wants to tell a story related to human rights, whether on paper, on a screen or through photographs. With it, we aim to encourage and promote the role of both factual and creative expression in stimulating the debate on human rights and freedom of expression. Find out more about the Sawti Human Rights Expression Competition here.
• Student debates – These debates will take place in schools and universities and will focus on engaging the Libyan youth in the discussion on freedom of expression. They will represent a fantastic opportunity for students to learn more about the rights and obligations associated with its exercise, while having great fun. If you want to know more about the Sawti student debates, look here.
• Art exhibitions – Through these exhibitions we want to encourage and create a space where all Libyan voices, especially the most marginalised ones, can feel free and safe to express themselves in all their creativity. Look here for more information on the Sawti art exhibitions.
• Advocacy for legal reform – As freedom of expression needs strong laws to be adequately protected, we will advocate for the reform of Libyan laws that fail to do so and encourage the government to adopt appropriate policy measures to protect this right. Look here to stay up to date with our latest publications on freedom of expression in Libya and our recommendations to the Libyan government.
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