9 May 2012

IFEX members demand repeal of law banning insults of state, Gaddafi glorification

Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are urging Libya's interim government to repeal a broad new law that bans criticising last year's revolution and spreading false news or "propaganda" that endangers the state.

According to the members, included in "propaganda" is glorification of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi, his regime, and his sons. If the offensive statements damage the country, the law says, the offender can be sentenced to life in prison.

The law can also be used against anyone who insults a range of bodies - Islam, the state's prestige or institutions, or even the Libyan people, slogan or flag. There are no specifications of what constitutes an offence, say the members.

The law issued last week is one in a series of laws the National Transitional Council, Libya's interim rulers, has recently issued to deal with the legacy of Gaddafi. IFEX members say they violate freedom of speech, fail to meet Libya's commitment to international human rights, and are too vague to enact.

"The terms of this law are sadly reminiscent of the Gaddafi regime's oppressive legislation and its adoption poses a threat to the democratic transition in Libya and to all the media that have emerged since the start of the revolution," said RSF.

The IFEX members say that under Gaddafi, criticising him or the revolution that brought him to power was punishable by death.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the new speech legislation was a "slap" in the face to Libyans who fought for a new Libya with better human rights.

"It seems the NTC has done a 'cut and paste' job with the Gaddafi-era laws," Whitson said. "Libya's new leaders should know that laws restricting what people can say can lead to a new tyranny."

Human Rights Watch called on governments supporting Libya's transition, as well as the UN mission in Libya, to condemn the law, and any other attempts to restrict free speech, expression and assembly.

A group of Libyan human rights lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they will challenge the law before the country's Supreme Court.

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