Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various militias, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.
Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014 and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because armed groups threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.
Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.
In early November the Special Deterrence Force shut down the government-secured Comic Con in Tripoli and arrested the organizers, who were held without charges for almost two months.
Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, are limited. Increased threats by various assailants forced many journalists to practice self-censorship.
There were numerous reports of the closing of media outlets and reports of raids by unidentified actors on organizations working on press freedom. Indirect restrictions on press freedom imposed by both foreign and domestic actors further polarized the media environment. In April Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that security forces had detained photographer Abdullah Doma multiple times while reporting on various events in LNA-controlled Benghazi.
Violence and Harassment: Attacks on media, including harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings reached the point where it was nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.
Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.
On October 11, media reports stated LNA-affiliated forces arrested six journalists while covering a cultural event in Hun in the southwest.
In August the publication of an anthology containing a small amount of material deemed “obscene” by conservative members of the local community resulted in death threats against several authors.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing militias or political factions. In addition, journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation. According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books they claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, and perversion.
Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.
National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the government did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.
Nongovernmental Impact: Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. For example, the control of Derna by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.
There were no credible reports that the government restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year. Nor were there credible reports that the government censored online content.
Facebook pages were consistently hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.
The government did not exercise effective control over communications infrastructure for most of the year. Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial communications. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation.
Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 20.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly; and the government generally respected these rights. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.
On September 25, political activist Basit Igtet held a demonstration against the leadership in Tripoli. Although the Ministry of Interior denied Igtet a permit to hold demonstrations, it provided security for the demonstrators and counter demonstrators, while enforcing checkpoints to keep armed groups from participating in the demonstration.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and the proliferation of targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and migrants faced abuse, principally arbitrary detention, but also killings and gender-based violence. Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Migrants reported some human smugglers were Libyan nationals.
There were allegations of sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation of migrants and refugees by traffickers, and criminal gangs at unofficial and official detention centers. There were also reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains. A November media report showed videos where migrants unable to pay smugglers were sold into slavery, including being forced to work as prostitutes or manual laborers, at auctions. There were also numerous media reports during the year suggesting that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. For example, in February traffickers reportedly caused the death of 74 individuals off a beach in Zawiya.
To address the abuse of migrants and refugees and combat trafficking in persons, the government launched an investigation and vowed to bring perpetrators to justice. Starting on November 29, the government also authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country and to provide assistance to refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. At the November African Union-EU Summit on Migration and a November 28 UN Security Council session, the government strongly condemned allegations of slavery in the country. In December the government committed to setting up a joint commission with Italy to counter human trafficking.
The country was the primary departure point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, with more than 90 percent leaving from the country. As of July 22, more than 114,000 migrants arrived in Europe according to the IOM, with 2,471 migrants dying at sea. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily overloaded, and there was a high risk of sinking.
In-country Movement: The government did not exercise control over internal movement, although government-aligned groups set up checkpoints in some parts of Western Libya. The LNA established checkpoints targeting extremist movements around Benghazi and Derna. There were reports that militias controlling airports within the country conducted additional checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad.
Militias effectively controlled regional movements through armed checkpoints. Militia checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, and other extremist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.
There were also multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by pro-GNA militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.
Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Due to the lack of international monitoring, observers could not verify the number of stateless persons.
Additionally, the country’s Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes to obtain permission, however.
Citizenship may also be revoked if obtained based on false information, forged documents, withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality, or all three. These actions may lead to revocation of citizenship by authorities. If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. It is not specified if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality or if loss of nationality applies to adult children as well.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Limited access for assistance organizations to towns affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced. There are 34 official detention centers across the country, which at year’s end housed 6,000 to 8,000 refugees and migrants in centers under the auspices of the Department for Combatting Irregular Migration, under the Ministry of Interior. Due to security concerns in the east, international organizations access was inconsistent.
In September UNHCR estimated there were 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi. Approximately 40,000 members of the Tawarghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population. Because Tawargha served as a base for Qadhafi forces during the revolution, Misratan militias attacked the town following the fall of the regime in 2011, compelling all inhabitants, largely descendants of former slaves of sub-Saharan African origins, to leave their homes. In December the government announced that families displaced from their homes in Tawargha due to events dating back to 2011 would be able to return home in February 2018. This decision followed a reconciliation deal between representatives of the town and the city of Misrata.
IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to promote adequately the safe, voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted them to the extent possible in view of the security environment.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The government did not establish a system for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request refugee status. UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies operate within the country and are allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitors and publicly reports on the situation of all refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in government detention centers. In November authorities permitted UNHCR to set up a “transit and departure facility” in Tripoli to facilitate the emergency evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugees to foreign countries. The government allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), and Eritreans. The government did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The government cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU and the United Nations.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The IOM estimated that approximately 393,000 migrants and refugees traversed the country throughout the year, with the majority of migrants originating from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 42,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
During the year UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite safety and security vulnerabilities, humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of Derna and Sirte.
There were reports that hundreds to thousands of sub-Saharan Africans entered the country illegally through the unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them (authorities held some for having improper documents and others for having committed crimes). Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. Government-affiliated and nongovernment militias regularly held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the government apparatus, whose health and education infrastructure was limited, did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services.
By law, children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they are born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from entering higher education, travelling, and certain educational opportunities.
Without citizenship, stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.