Amnesty International Condemns Libyan Law Restricting Freedom of Speech as “Eerie Reminder” of Gaddafi Era

May 3, 2012

Amnesty International Condemns Libyan Law Restricting Freedom of Speech as “Eerie Reminder” of Gaddafi Era

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 212-633-4150

(New York) -- Amnesty International today condemned a new Libyan law forbidding the "glorification" of the deposed leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, saying it is an "eerie reminder" of laws he passed to stamp dissent.

Law 37 of 2012 on the Criminalization of the Glorification of the Dictator was passed Wednesday by the National Transitional Council. It carries prison sentences for spreading false rumors, propaganda or information with the aim of harming national defense, “terrorizing people” or “weakening citizens’ morale” during war time. The law imposes life imprisonment if such actions “harm the country.”

“This new legislation is an eerie reminder of draconian legislation that was used to stamp out dissent during al-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,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Glorifying “al-Gaddafi, or his political system, or his ideas, or children” is considered to be an act of “sensationalist propaganda” according to the new law.

The law also includes vague provisions for punishment and prison for anyone who harms “the February 17 Revolution.” Punishment is also applied for those “offending” Islam, the state and its institutions, or for “publicly offending the Libyan people.”

An NTC official told Amnesty International that the law aims to protect the sensibilities of victims of al-Gaddafi’s crimes, and to promote national reconciliation. Another official pointed out that the law was needed because some teachers continued to glorify al-Gaddafi’s rule in schools, threatening the “February 17 Revolution.”

Not only does the law run counter to Libya’s international obligations, but it is also not compliant with Libya’s Constitutional Declaration, adopted on August, 3 2011, which guarantees freedom of expression.

“Free speech must be guaranteed for all, not only supporters of the new government,” said Luther. “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.”

Since the fall of al-Gaddafi, his alleged loyalists have faced reprisals and revenge attacks in a climate of impunity. Thousands of people continue to be detained outside the framework of the law, on accusations of supporting or fighting for al-Gaddafi. To date, none have been charged.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.