June 14, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Libyan Supreme Court strikes down law aimed at curbing free speech

Read in arabic (بالعربية)

Reporters Without Borders is relieved at the ruling by the Libyan Supreme Court yesterday that Law 37 criminalizing any “insult to the Libyan people and its institutions”, is unconstitutional.

The opinion of a group of “wise men” was sought after a Libyan human rights organization appealed against the approval of such an outrageous piece of legislation by the National Transitional Council on 2 May.

“We are pleased that the Libyan Supreme Court has ruled this law unconstitutional,” the press freedom organization said. “This is a common sense decision.

“This organization had condemned the adoption of this repressive law which criminalizes certain opinions and would be a regrettable backward step and a serious danger to free speech and freedom of news and information.”

Law 37, which disregards international law and interim constitutional provisions approved by the NTC, makes spreading “false news and information” or “propaganda” that “endangers national security, terrorizes the public or undermines public morale” punishable by imprisonment.

Comments glorifying the former regime and its fallen leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, would also be criminal offences under the new law, as would harming the 17 February Libyan Revolution or insulting the Libyan people, their flag and Islam.

The ruling that Law 37 is unconstitutional retains the freedom of speech and information that is an essential accompaniment and tool to help shape Libya’s transition to democracy.

In addition, Reporters Without Borders notes the importance of reaffirming freedom of opinion and expression in the next constitution. Equally vital is the adoption of a press code to protect these basic constitutional freedoms.
07.05.2012 : Repressive new law criminalizes insulting government institutions

Reporters Without Borders calls on Libya’s interim parliament, the National Transitional Council (NTC), to repeal the law criminalizing any “insult to the Libyan people and its institutions” that it adopted on 2 May.

“This law contravenes the interim constitutional provisions that the NTC adopted and the international law to which it is subject,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Criminalizing certain opinions, going so far as to make them punishable by imprisonment, endangers freedom of expression and information, especially as the law’s criteria are vague and imprecise and leave a great deal of room for arbitrary interpretation.

“The terms of this law are sadly reminiscent of the Gaddafi regime’s oppressive legislation and its adoption poses a threat to the democratic transition in Libya and to all the media that have emerged since the start of the revolution. We therefore urge the NTC to repeal it in its entirety.”

Reporters Without Borders stresses the need for freedom of opinion and expression to be reaffirmed in the future constitution and the need for a media law that protects these fundamental constitutional freedoms.

Law 37 criminalizes “false news and information” or “propaganda” that “endanger national security, terrorize the public or undermine public morale.” Comments harming the 17 February Libyan Revolution, glorifying the former regime and its leader, Col. Gaddafi, or his sons, or insulting the Libyan people, their flag and Islam are all also criminal offences under the new law.

All these offences are punishable by imprisonment under the new law, which does not specify the length of the jail terms that can be imposed except in the case of “rumours of information” causing harm to the country, for which a life sentence is possible.

The ban on any form of opposition to or criticism of the 17 February Revolution seems to have been based directly on article 195 of Col. Gaddafi’s criminal code penalizing any attack on the Great Al-Fatah Revolution or its Leader.

Photo : AFP