Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) is deeply saddened by the news of the assassination of journalist Muftah Awad Buzid in Benghazi on Monday 26 May 2014. LFJL wishes to send its condolences to his family and loved ones. His murder adds to the growing list of violent attacks against media workers and highlights the hostile working environment that faces journalists and freedom of expression practitioners in Libya.
Muftah Buzid was the editor of the popular Burniq newspaper and a highly respected media figure. He was reportedly shot several times by a group of gunmen, after his car was forcedly stopped by three vehicles near the centre of Benghazi. The night before this attack, Buzid appeared on the national television channel Libya Al-Ahrar, where he discussed current events and the deterioration of the security situation in Libya. Buzid was a long-time observer of developments in Benghazi and had been critical of the city’s ongoing lack of security and the conduct of militia groups.
Elham Saudi, LFJL Director, said: “We are deeply saddened by the assassination of Mr Buzid. He was a tireless defender of the right to freedom of expression and set an example for generations of journalists to come. We call on the government to act by holding the perpetrators of such attacks accountable and taking measures to ensure the protection of media workers.”
LFJL is deeply concerned about the current state of freedom of expression in Libya. Violent attacks carried out by non-state actors on those who freely express their opinions have been a regular occurrence since the end of the revolution. The number of attacks has in fact increased during the current year. Azzedine Qusad, from the television station Libya Al-Hurra, was killed in August 2013 by three gunmen while in his car. Photojournalist Saleh Ayyad Hafyana was shot dead while documenting anti-militia protests in Tripoli in November, and Radwan Gharyani, owner and manager of radio station Tripoli FM, was killed in December by unknown perpetrators for unknown reasons. Attacks against television stations, such as that carried out against Al-Asema TV in February 2014, also serves to undermine freedom of expression rights.
The Libyan state has thus far failed to respond to such attacks. It is vital that the state investigates these crimes and holds those responsible to account in order to ensure the protection of freedom of expression rights and the establishment of the rule of law. The government should also demonstrate that it understands the importance of freedom of expression by repealing legislative measures that obstruct the enjoyment of this fundamental right. For example, the recently passed Law 5 of 2014, criminalises any action that may harm or prejudice the February 17 Revolution, as well as insulting remarks directed at members of state institutions. This is clearly an affront to the principle of freedom of expression and further distances Libya from well-established international human rights standards.
In addition, a number of journalists continue to be imprisoned for defamation and blasphemy charges which are brought about through the use of Gaddafi-era articles of the Libyan Penal Code. Despite these provisions being in in direct contradiction with Libya’s democratic aspirations and Constitutional Declaration they were used to arrest Amara Al-Khitabi, editor of the newspaper Al-Umma. He was charged with “insulting of constitutional or popular authorities” in November 2012 and could face up to a 15-year prison sentence for the offense. LFJL urges the Libyan government to take measures to remove legislation that is in violation of international human rights law and the Constitutional Declaration. The Libyan government should also take active steps to ensure detainees charged under such provisions are released.
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