Monday, February 24, 2014

New Law in Libya Restricts Free Expression

Libya’s new law could place undue restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion, the United Nations human rights office warned last week while also expressing concern about an increasing number of attacks against journalists in recent months. The warning coincided with the third anniversary of the 2011 Libyan uprising which overthrew Muammar al-Qadhafi and began a democratic transition in the country. 

The new Law No. 5 imposes prison sentences on any person “undermining the February 17 Revolution” and for “publicly insulting one of the legislative, executive or judicial authorities.”  “Law No. 5 of 2014 certainly appears to go against the spirit of the [revolution],” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.  

She highlighted that one of the key documents adopted soon after the revolution was the Constitutional Declaration, which states that freedom of opinion, freedom of communication, liberty of the press, printing, publication and mass media, and freedom of assembly shall be guaranteed by the State in accordance with the law. “We call upon the General National Congress to reconsider these legislative amendments to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Libya has ratified,” Ms. Shamdasani said. 

OHCHR said it is ready to assist authorities in revamping the legislation through its human rights division at the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

The UN human rights office also condemned recent violence against journalists in the country and called for impartial, speedy, and effective investigations into the attacks. OHCHR has received reports of “killings, intimidation, abductions and other attacks” against journalists and media workers in the country. Among these, three separate incidents of journalists being abducted in Sabha, Tripoli and Benghazi, and attacks on TV stations Libya Al-Ahrar and al-Aseema in Benghazi and Tripoli respectively. 

Looking forward to the beginning of the process of drafting the constitution in Libya, OHCHR said it hopes that Libya will use this opportunity to build upon the commitments made in the Constitutional Declaration and “firmly enshrine human rights principles, including the right to freedom of expression and opinion, in the legal system.”

(adapted from a UN press release)

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