Human Rights Watch welcomes improved relations between Libya and France – but not at the expense of human rights.
The release of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical workers this July should not obscure ongoing human rights abuses in Libya today. The absence of a free press, the ban on independent organizations, the torture of detainees, and the continued incarceration of political prisoners should be issues of urgency for President Sarkozy’s government and for other EU members. Engagement with Libya should include a plan to improve human rights conditions and the rule of law.
I. Political Prisoners
Scores of individuals are in prison for having engaged in peaceful political activity, and some have “disappeared.” Law 71, described below, bans independent political activity, and violators can be put to death.
Idris Boufayed Group
In February 2007 Libyan security agents in Tripoli arrested 14 organizers of a planned peaceful demonstration intended to commemorate the anniversary of a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in Benghazi in 2006. At least 12 of the detainees are currently on trial, and could face the death penalty, for planning to overthrow the government, arms possession, and meeting with a foreign official. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, none of the 14 men has advocated violence.
Dr. Idris Boufayed, the demonstration’s main organizer, is an outspoken critic of Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi whom the government had previously detained for 55 days in November – December 2006. Jamal al-Haji, also detained, is a Danish citizen to whom Libya has refused to grant access by Danish officials. Two other detainees, Ahmad Yusif al-`Ubaidi and Al-Sadiq Salih Humaid, are reportedly not receiving treatment for medical ailments.
Most disturbingly, the government has “disappeared” two of the detainees. `Abd al-Rahman al-Qotaiwi, a fourth-year medical student involved in planning the demonstration, and Jum`a Boufayed, who had given media interviews following the arrest of his brother Idris Boufayed, have been missing since their arrests.
Fathi al-Jahmi is perhaps Libya’s most well-known political prisoner. Internal security forces first arrested him in October 2002, after he publicly criticized Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi and called for free elections, a free press, and the release of political prisoners. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, but an appeals court ordered his release in March 2004.
That same month, after al-Jahmi again criticized al-Qadhafi and called for Libya’s democratization, security agents promptly re-arrested him. His wife and eldest son were also arrested and detained without charge for more than six months, ostensibly “for their safety.” Al-Jahmi remains in detention today. His trial began in late 2005, but has since stopped with the government providing no further information or announcing the charges against him. According to his court appointed lawyer, al-Jahmi may face the death penalty for supporting or calling for the establishment of “any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law.” According to al-Jahmi’s family, the government has denied them visits since August 2006. His brother told Human Rights Watch: “We don’t know at this moment if he’s dead or alive.”
II. Law 71
Law 71 bans any group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of the al-Fateh Revolution, which brought Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi to power in 1969. Article 3 of the law imposes the death penalty on those who form, join or support such groups. Over the years, Libyan authorities have imprisoned hundreds of people for violating this law, and some have been sentenced to death.
III. Death Penalty
For more than two years, Libya has said that experts are drafting new penal and criminal procedure codes. According to the Secretary of Justice, in the new penal code the death penalty “will be reduced to the greatest possible extent,” although it will remain for serious crimes, such as terrorism. As of today, no new penal code or code of criminal procedure has been introduced. Many of the current articles impose death for activities that should be protected under the rights to free expression and assembly.
- Article 166 of the penal code imposes the death penalty on anyone who talks to or conspires with a foreign official to provoke or contribute to an attack against Libya.
- Article 167 orders up to life in prison for conspiring with a foreign official to harm Libya’s military, political or diplomatic position.
Article 178 orders life imprisonment for the dissemination of information considered to “tarnish [the country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it
- Article 206 imposes the death penalty on those who call “for the establishment of any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law,” and on those who belong to or support such an organization.
- Article 207 imposes the death penalty on those who spread within the country “theories or principles that aim to change the basic principles of the constitutional laws or the fundamental structures of the social system or to overthrow the state’s political, social, or economic structures, or destroy any of the fundamental structures of the social system using violence, terrorism, or any other unlawful means.”
IV. Killings at Abu Salim Prison
The head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency told Human Rights Watch in May 2005 that the government had formed a committee to investigate the 1996 deaths of prisoners in Abu Salim prison at the hands of guards. The government says that guards responded properly to a revolt in which some prisoners escaped. Libyan human rights groups abroad and a former prisoner say security forces executed hundreds of prisoners after the authorities had regained control of the prison. More than one decade later, the government has failed to release important details on the incident, including the number of people killed on June 28 and 29, 1996 and the names of the dead.