World Press Freedom Day: Protect freedom of expression of media practitioners in Libya

May 3, 2018

On World Press Freedom Day, LFJL remains deeply concerned by the restrictions imposed on media practitioners in Libya and reiterates its call to the Libyan state to protect freedom of expression and to guarantee media practitioners’ ability to conduct their work freely and safely.

The media environment remains highly repressive and dangerous in Libya, earning it the ranking of 162 out of 180 states in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. This ranking is a result of the prevalence of physical attacks against journalists, activists and the media, as well as Libya’s restrictive legal framework on freedom of expression and the press.

LFJL’s Guide to Freedom of Expression in Libya explains how Libya’s current legal framework dangerously restricts freedom of expression and the capacity of media practitioners to conduct their work freely. The Libyan Penal Code, for example, criminalises forms of expression which insult public officials, the Libyan nation, the Libyan flag or a person’s honour and those which harm or prejudice the February 17 Revolution. Such provisions criminalise forms of expression in a manner which is inconsistent with Libya’s international human rights obligations and the Constitutional Declaration. The current legal framework seeks to silence political dissent and contributes to closing space for independent reporting. This was recently highlighted on 11 April 2018 with the arrest of Ramadan Taweeb, a journalist and activist who has been charged with libel against the mayor of Ain Zara, a municipality located in the south of Tripoli. As of today, Taweeb remains in custody.

Alongside the legal challenges to their work, media practitioners and media outlets continue to be targeted for voicing opinions and are frequently subject to harassment, threats and attacks. These attacks are often carried out by non-state actors in retaliation to criticism of their actions. As a result, journalists, activists and writers operating in the country live under threat and intimidation, leading many of them to censor their publications or flee the country in order to work from abroad.

The Libyan state has failed both to protect media practitioners and journalists from these attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Instead, the state has supported perpetrators by enabling armed groups and their members to remain unpunished for their crimes and by providing some with financial support or quasi-police powers. Elham Saudi, LFJL’s Director, noted: “Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are essential components of a free and democratic society. It is vital that the state amend or repeal existing laws which restrict expression and fail to comply with international standards. The presence of free and independent media is vital for social and political progress in Libya.” On World Press Freedom Day, LFJL renews its call on the Libyan state to adhere to its commitment to repeal the laws restricting expression in Libya in order to bring domestic law in line with international human rights standards, and to protect journalists from attacks.

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