On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day LFJL wishes to commemorate the journalists who are harassed, attacked, detained or have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. The environment is currently extremely hostile for freedom of expression practitioners and LFJL emphasises the need for the Libyan state to take urgent action to investigate these grave human rights violations and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account. LFJL also calls for the Libyan authorities to take positive actions to provide a legal framework that enables the effective enjoyment of this right and inhibits the incitement of violence in the media.
Attacks on media practitioners
Currently, the simple fact of travelling with a camera or being recognised as a journalist places a person at severe risk. Libya is ranked 154 of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, declining from the rank of 131 in 2013 as the number of violations against journalists and activists has increased over the past year.
On 27 April 2015, five members of a television crew from the Barqa network were found dead near the city of Al Bayda after being kidnapped eight months ago. The crew-members had been missing since August 2014 when they were traveling from Tobruk to Ajdabiya after covering the opening session of the then newly elected House of Representatives. On 22 April 2015, Libyan television journalist Muftah al-Qatrani was shot dead at the offices of Al-Anwar, his production company. He had recently reported on the fighting between rival groups in Benghazi.
These attacks and human rights violations are carried out with impunity; the Libyan state has so-far failed to investigate these crimes or to pursue accountability. This has created an extremely hostile environment for freedom of expression stakeholders, many of whom have sought to take refuge abroad. Those who have remained in Libya are under increasing pressure to self-censor or to alter their behaviour to remain safe. Although Libyan media initially flourished following the 2011 uprising, with approximately 50 television stations, dozens of radio stations and several daily newspapers being established, the failure to ensure the safety of media practitioners has meant that the space for media outlets has decreased. In its Sawti report, LFJL details that between September and November 2014 alone, seven media institutions were attacked and two were shut down, highlighting the impact of the failure to protect or promote press freedom.
Current legal framework
The Libyan state must provide a legal framework which enshrines the right to freedom of expression in accordance with Libya’s international legal obligations and the aspirations of the Libyan people. Libya’s domestic laws relating to freedom of expression contain a number of provisions that restrict this right, in breach of Libya’s own Constitutional Declaration of 3 August 2011 and its international obligation. In addition to laws established before 2011 that curtail the right to freedom of expression and remain in force, new laws and decrees that are equally problematic have been adopted in the last four years and continue to be in force. These include:
On 24 December 2014, Libya’s Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) published its first set of constitutional recommendations. Whilst the recommendations of the thematic committee on Rights and Liberties recognise the right to freedom of thought and expression, detailed limitations to the rights are included. For instance, the prohibition of prior censorship does not apply “during war time” and is only applicable to Libyan citizens. This restriction makes such provision extremely weak, potentially leading to indiscriminate restrictions. Further cause for concern arises from the recommendation for a “Prohibition of deliberate falsification of facts” which is vague and exceeds the accepted limitations set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR). Restrictions must follow the very narrow conditions defined in the ICCPR and their interpretation must be strict. The constitution should serve as a benchmark in which all rights are enshrined in the broadest, least restrictive terms.
Hate speech and incitement of violence
The fractured nature of Libya’s political system and the increasing polarisation of society have impacted media and reporting. There has been an escalation of hate speech and incitement of violence which has destroyed plurality, fueling division within Libyan society through misinformation and even encouraging attacks and assassinations of individuals. Media pluralism is essential to the creation of a well-functioning democratic society where media works to ensure accountability and transparency through facilitating an informed and representative debate. The current media polarisation threatens this fundamental role.
On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day LFJL’s Director, Elham Saudi, commented “The Libyan state is failing in its domestic and international obligations to protect freedom of expression. It is vital for Libya’s democratic aspirations that the state works to ensure full enjoyment of this right by protecting those working in the media sector, and building a legislative and constitutional landscape that is supportive and encouraging of freedom of expression and free media.”
Accordingly, LFJL calls for urgent action to ensure the right of freedom of expression practitioners to report news without fear of reprisal by ending impunity for attacks and assassinations, repealing obstructive legislation and adopting a constitution that enshrines the right to the highest possible standard.