Libyan anti-Gaddafi law erodes free speech: Amnesty

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Published Friday, May 4, 2012

A proposed Libyan law criminalizing the "glorification" of fallen dictator Muammar Gaddafi, as well as "offending" Islam, is an attack on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) on Wednesday approved "Law 37 of 2012 on the Criminalization of the Glorification of the Dictator," which outlaws any expression of support for the late leader, his children, or his ideas.

The law also includes vaguely-worded provisions against those that "terrorize people" or "weaken citizens’ morale" during war time, as well as imposing life imprisonment if such actions "harm the country."

Those harming "the 17 February Revolution" also face prison sentences, although there was no elaboration as to what were included in such offenses.

A similar punishment is given to anyone "offending" Islam, the state and its institutions, or for "publicly offending the Libyan people."

Amnesty warned that Libya could relapse into repression with the introduction of such a law.

"This new legislation is an eerie reminder of draconian legislation that was used to stamp out dissent during Gaddafi’s brutal four-decade rule. Libyans took to the streets in February of last year and paid a heavy price to get rid of such repressive practices, not to see them reintroduced," Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

In order to achieve full democracy, Libya must respect free speech, and not simply award it to supporters of the new leadership, Amnesty said.

"The adoption of a law criminalizing activities merely amounting to peaceful freedom of expression is a step backward on the road to building a new Libya on the foundations of respecting human rights. Free speech must be guaranteed for all, not only supporters of the new government," Luther said.

Journalists might become easy targets under the limits to free speech, Amnesty warned, granting the ruling authorities legal powers to punish those critical of its rule under the guise of "protecting of revolution."

"We fear that this law will have a chilling effect on the emerging media in Libya and may lead to the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience," Luther added.

The UK-based rights group criticized the NTC's handling of supposed Gaddafi loyalists, pointing to a series of revenge attacks that are still ongoing in a "climate of impunity" and outside of the legal framework.

Libya is suffering from gross instability following a NATO military intervention last year that toppled the Gaddafi regime.

The foreign intervention brought with it an influx of heavy weaponry, many of which are still in the hands of rogue militias refusing to disarm.

Clashes between rival militias and gangs are now a regular occurrence, with the NTC struggling to impose its authority across the oil-rich state.

(Al-Akhbar)

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