Libya: Critical TV Bans Setback for Freedom of Speech

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A new decree passed by Libya's parliament banning satellite television stations critical of the government and the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi violates free speech and Libya's Provisional Constitutional Declaration. The decree was passed January 22, 2014. The government also slashed scholarship funding for students abroad, along with salaries and bonuses to employees who take part in activities "inimical" to the revolution.

"You'd think that Libyans learned long ago that suppressing speech, no matter how harsh, does nothing to foster security or peace," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director, Human Rights Watch. "The best way to confront opinions that the government doesn't like is to challenge them with better ideas that will convince Libyans."

Decree 5/2014, "Concerning the Cessation and Ban on the Broadcasting of Certain Satellite Channels," passed by Libya's parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), on January 22, instructs the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Communications, and [Mass] Media to "take necessary steps required" to halt the transmission of all satellite television stations that are "hostile to the February 17 revolution and whose purpose is the destabilization of the country or creating divisions among Libyans." It further instructs the government to "take all measures" against states or businesses in territories from where the channels are broadcast if they do not block the transmission of these stations.

The decree violates freedom of expression because it censors a wide range of speech, including peaceful political dissent, and its broad and vague wording is open to arbitrary implementation, Human Rights Watch said. While the government could lawfully ban speech that is found to directly incite violence, it should not ban all of a satellite channel's broadcasts even if some of the speech that it disseminates is found to incite violence. Human Rights Watch urged the government to revoke the resolution.

The ban appears intended to block satellite stations that have taken a pro-Gaddafi position in their editorial content; in particular, it appears aimed at a pro-Gaddafi station, al-Khadra Channel, and al-Jamahiriyah.

Libya's government also passed Resolution 13/2014 on January 24, discontinuing scholarships to students studying abroad and salaries and bonuses to Libyan employees, for "taking part in activities inimical to the February 17 revolution," which is widely understood to encompass statements and protests against the current government. It calls on Libyan embassies abroad and others to draw up lists of names and refer them to the Prosecutor General for prosecution.

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