Repealing all regulations and decrees that provide disproportionate and illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expressions and the press
During the plenary session held on 26 October 2021, the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) unanimously adopted the Anti-Cybercrime Law. As explained by the media advisor of the House of Representatives the law aims to “tackle crimes or the wrongful use of electronic technology in relation to the State, the person, or any other entity, including counterfeiting and spreading rumors.” The law, however, contains broad language that provides the Libyan authorities extensive discretion to limit freedom of expression. For instance, Article 4 stipulates that the use of the internet and new technologies is considered “legal” provided that “public order and morality” are respected. The unclear terms such as ‘public order’ and ‘morality’ leave space for arbitrary interpretation of the law. This is not a new practice to the Libyan authorities which have used in the past “violations to public order and morality” as a pretext to target, imprison, torture, and kill journalists and human rights defenders. The cybercrime law will also grant Libyan authorities the power to monitor and censor content published on social media “and any other technical platform”, and to block websites without judicial orders. Additionally, the law introduces heavy fines and prison sentences for a period of up to fifteen years for those who would violate its provisions. These provisions will significantly limitfreedom of expression and freedom of the press online and grant Libyan authorities the liberty to target and suppress human rights activists and defenders. On 10 November, more than 30 human rights organisations, including LFJL, signed and published an open letter highlighting these issues and calling on Libyan authorities to rescind the new cybercrime law. This law was introduced at a crucial time and is particularly concerning in the context of the upcoming elections. The GNU should refrain from implementing the anti-cybercrime law and the HoR should repeal such restrictive legislation in order to guarantee freedom of expression in the upcoming electoral process.
Ensuring that attacks and threats against those who speak out publicly are investigates and those responsible are held accountable
Ensuring the media have access to politicians, including through briefings to the media on the progress made, and are able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion.
This November, the Foreign Media Department (FMD) of the Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation responded to claims that Libyan authorities were preventing the accreditation of international journalists and media professionals from media coverage of the elections’ and characterised these statements as ‘‘baseless rumours and misleading news, which seek to disrupt the course of the elections’’. However, local and international media have reported difficulties in gaining access to cover political events. There has also been a number of complaints from local media that the GNU favours some media outlets over others for granting access to events. Additionally, many international media are complaining about facing excessive bureaucracy requirements in order to enter Libya and report on the elections. This puts into question the access of the media to the polling stations, which is an essential component to supporting free and fair elections.
However, in a positive development, on 12 November, it was announced that Libya will hold its first-ever presidential debates shortly before the upcoming elections. The debates are sponsored by the Libyan Commission on Presidential Debates, a group of civil society organisations, and will be technically supported by several local and regional organisations. The debates will be held under the banner ‘Libya Decides’ and will be open to all broadcasters. The organisation of such presidential debates is a welcome step to raise awareness of the candidates running for the elections and their manifestos, a necessity to guarantee informed votes and free and fair elections. Such a debate would increase the level of transparency of the electoral process.
What is the problem?
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are under attack in Libya. Over the past ten years, Libyan authorities in the east and the west have undermined freedom of press by restricting and criminalising forms of legitimate expression. To do so, they have relied on Gaddafi-era legislation, such as Law 76 of 1972 on Publications, and adopted regulations such as Decree 597 of 2020 which established the Libyan Media Foundation, a body offered sweeping powers to oversee the media. On repeated occasions, the Government of NationalAccord (GNA), including the International Media Department of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and GNA-affiliated militias, have prevented local media professionals from working with international outlets and blocked international journalists from covering incidents in Tripoli, confiscating their equipment.
Additionally, militias and armed groups have actively targeted media professionals for conducting their work, in a climate of impunity. Since 2014, journalists and dissenting voices, have increasingly faced murder, abduction, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture in detention and threats by armed groups associated with successive Libyan governments. In particular, female journalists continue to be subjected to smear campaigns, including online, as well as physical attacks and confiscation of equipment. This has led many women to leave the profession as a result of the intimidations and harassment they routinely face for carrying out their work.
What you must do about it
The freedom to inform and the freedom to express diverging views and political opinions are fundamental rights, and are key in the lead up to elections to ensure political debate.
Under the Roadmap, you are required to “complete the administrative, financial and security procedures necessary for the success of the elections through confidence-building measures, including rehabilitation and regulating of the media sector” (article 6.1). You must guarantee freedom of expression by creating an environment in which journalists, writers and activists can speak freely, without discrimination, fear of retribution, or arbitrary punishment by:
- Repealing all regulations and decrees that provide disproportionate and illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and the press;
- Ensuring that attacks and threats against those who speak out publicly are investigated and those responsible are held accountable;
- Ensuring the media have access to politicians, including through briefings to the media on the progress made, and are able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion.