Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) denounces the amendments to the Libyan Penal Code carried out by the General National Congress (GNC) on 5 February 2014 due to the illegitimate restrictions they place on the right to freedom of expression.
Law 5 of 2014 criminalises any action which may harm or prejudice the February 17 Revolution, as well as insulting remarks directed at the executive, judiciary, and the legislator or any of their members. This law is in direct conflict with freedom of expression provisions guaranteed by the Libyan Interim Constitutional Declaration and international human rights conventions to which Libya is a party. LFJL is very concerned that these arbitrary restrictions to freedom of expression will have a detrimental effect on government accountability and result in the further curtailment of Libyan rights.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that is necessary for human dignity. It is important that the public are able to hold and express opinions even when such beliefs are deemed unfavourable by those in power. It is an essential principle for the creation of democratic society and to ensure the promotion and protection of other human rights. It is vital as it allows society to hold state actors responsible and question their legitimacy. It is an important component in promoting state transparency and accountability.
LFJL recalls that the Libyan Supreme Court previously found similar restrictions to freedom of expression unlawful. In June 2012 the court held that Law 37, which criminalised the glorification of the dictator as well as publishing any news, propaganda or rumours which might harm the 17 February revolution, was incompatible with the Libyan Interim Constitutional Declaration. LFJL urges the GNC to take account of the Supreme Court’s previous decision and ensure that legislation is compliant with the Interim Constitutional Declaration.
Elham Saudi, director of LFJL, said “The right to freedom of expression promotes the application of other human rights and helps improve government accountability. The right becomes worthless if it only protects certain forms of political expression deemed acceptable. The criminalisation of critical expression is an extremely radical measure that is completely out of step with democratic values and Libya’s international law obligations. It is saddening that the GNC has failed to recognise this fundamental democratic right and has failed to take into account the Supreme Court’s decision on Law 37 on this point. We strongly urge them to reconsider these amendments.”