A new law in Libya provides punishments of up to 15 years in prison anyone convicted of publicly insulting legislative, executive branch or judicial officials.
Libya’s provisional parliament, the General National Congress (GNC) passed the law Feb. 5, according to local news reports
The change, which came less than two weeks before the third anniversary of the revolution that toppled Muammar Qaddafi’s government, came in the form of an amendment to the Qaddafi-era penal code, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The Qaddafi-era law offered the same punishment to anyone who attacked “Great Al-Fateh Revolution,” a reference to his 1969 seizure of power, the Paris-based press group said. The new law substitutes “Great Al-Fateh” with “17 February Revolution,” a reference to the 2011 date when protesters clashed with Qaddafi security forces.
The restriction comes less than two weeks before the third anniversary of the revolution that toppled Muammar Qaddafi’s government. a new law punishing anyone who publicly insults legislative, executive or judicial officials with up to 15 years in prison.
“Three years ago Libyans took to the streets to demand greater freedom, not another authoritarian rule,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International, in a statement.
“What is the difference between not being able to criticize al-Gaddafi’s ‘Al-Fateh Revolution’ or the '17 February Revolution’? Behind both is the idea that expression is limited and some issues of taboo.”
The legislation comes amidst a recent spate of attacks on journalists. At least six journalists have been kidnapped since January and two are still missing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Feb. 6, unidentified attackers attempted to break into the Benghazi office of Libya al-Ahrar, a local TV channel, and opened fire at the building. The offices of Libya Awwalan TV were attacked on the same night.
Fearing a similar attack and after receiving a number of threats, the staff of Al-Assema TV channel decided to evacuate their Benghazi office. The office’s director Mohamed al-Sureet was briefly abducted on Feb. 5 while he was reporting on an attack against Saiqa Brigade guards stationed outside of al-Jalaa Hospital. He was released unharmed 10 hours later.
"The government has moved to create a legal framework to stifle dissent, even as journalists are in increasing danger of physical attack," said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for CPJ, “On the week commemorating the third anniversary of the revolution that ousted Muammar Qaddafi, we call on all Libyans to work together to protect press freedom, a cornerstone of democracy."