Libyan speech law assailed

The group Human Rights Watch said the restrictions recalled the Gadhafi era.

Posted: May 06, 2012

TRIPOLI, Libya - Human Rights Watch on Saturday urged the new government in Libya to revoke a law that criminalizes glorifying former dictator Moammar Gadhafi and spreading "propaganda" that insults or endangers the state.

The measure issued last week was one in a series of laws the National Transitional Council, Libya's interim rulers, issued recently to deal with the Gadhafi's legacy. The laws have come under criticism from international and local rights groups for violating freedom of speech or being too vague to enact.

The Human Rights Watch, based in New York, criticized the law passed last week that criminalizes spreading "false" news or "propaganda" that endangers the country's security or terrorizes people. Glorifying Gadhafi and his regime is considered such a crime, the new law says.

If the news leads to damaging the country, the crime is punishable by life in prison.

Human Rights Watch said the law failed to meet Libya's commitment to international human rights. It is also vague in defining offenses.

"This legislation punishes Libyans for what they say, reminiscent of the dictatorship that was just overthrown," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It will restrict free speech, stifle dissent, and undermine the principles on which the Libyan revolution was based."

Salwa Fawzi al-Deghali, the top legal affairs official in the transitional council, declined to comment, saying there were no formal complaints from the rights group.

The law also punishes anyone who "offends" the Libyan uprising, which began with protests on Feb. 17, 2011, until the capture and killing of Gadhafi in October. In a brief and vague article, the law says it also punishes those who offend Islam, the state's prestige or its institutions, the Libyan people, or flag. There are no specifications of what constitutes an offense.

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

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