Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, 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 Salafist-leaning armed groups, among others, 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.
International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.
Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.
Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, were limited. Additional restrictions on press freedom were promulgated during the year. Beginning in January the GNA’s Foreign Media Department (FMD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed its staff to monitor and track the movements of foreign journalists and severely restricted approvals of journalist visas. On April 2, the GNA issued a decree imposing additional licensing restrictions on foreign press organizations. Authorities associated with the FMD revoked valid foreign press credentials and required foreign media organizations to apply for authorization from the Libyan Embassy in the country where the organization was headquartered. The FMD also required foreign media organizations to provide the names of the agency’s foreign and local staff. Journalists said the regulations were designed to increase the costs of operating in the country, as well as to provide a legal justification for shutting organizations that did not meet the requirements.
Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it 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. In some exceptional cases, however, GNA authorities such as the Attorney General’s Office were able to intervene to see journalists released.
On March 20, armed men from the GNA-aligned TRB abducted and arbitrarily detained Juma al-Asi, director of the Al-Asima Television Channel, from his home in the Andalusia neighborhood of Tripoli. The TRB gave no reason for his arrest, nor the legal basis for his detention. On March 27, the Attorney General’s Office intervened and referred al-Asi’s case to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the absence of any legal case against him, he was released. None of the TRB members involved in his kidnapping was charged in connection with his illegal detention.
On July 30, forces in Abu Sitta Abusetta Naval Base, which falls under the control of the GNA-aligned al-Nawasi Brigade, detained four journalists during a rescue operation for migrants in Tripoli. The Reuters and Agence-France Presse journalists were released after 10 hours of interrogations.
In March 2017 Annabaa TV stopped broadcasting after its Tripoli headquarters were set on fire by an unidentified Tripoli-based militia. This crime remained unsolved as of year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.
According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books it claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, or moral 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 provides 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 GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.
Nongovernmental Impact: Armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Salafist or Islamist-affiliated armed groups, other armed groups also limited freedom of expression.
On July 31, the body of Musa Abdulkareem, a journalist and photographer working for Fasanea, a Sabha-based newspaper, was found in the al-Thanawia neighborhood of Sabha. Abdulkareem’s body showed signs of torture, including burns, and 13 gunshot wounds. His murder remained unsolved.
The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.
Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.
Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. In September unknown entities blocked access to Facebook for several days in Tripoli during clashes between rival armed groups in the capital, hampering the ability of government officials to transmit information. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, 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, 21.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
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; of the 20 universities active in 2011, only 12 were still operational in during the year.
In 2017 Al-Fanar Media reported the case of a professor, Ahmed bin Suwaid of Tripoli University Medical School, who resigned his position and left the country after students affiliated with armed groups beat him; they attacked bin Suwaid after he refused to provide the students questions for a qualifying examination in advance of the test.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. 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.
Throughout the year the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, led by Mohammed al-Boa, held several protests in Tripoli opposing the role militia groups played in the capital (see section 1.g.). Police authorities generally cooperated with the group’s requests, coordinating with the group to issue permits and provide security at protest sites.
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 targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association. Civil society organizations also complained about a lack of a legal framework for organizing and implementing their activities. The FMD (see FMDs section 2.a.) and the Ministry of Culture Civil Society Commission took steps to regulate the activity of civil society organizations. Other organizations, including the NCHRL and the AOHRL, were able to register and to interact freely with GNA officials.
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: According to UNHCR migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, including in nongovernmental detention centers (see section 1.d.), torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Conditions in detention included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, and lack of potable water.
Women migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.
Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations were involved in human smuggling activities.
Numerous media reports during the year suggested that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. In July Al-Jazeera reported that eight migrants, including six children, were found dead after suffocating from gas exhaust while packed into a truck container on the western coast near Zuwara. Another 90 migrants were injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.
Migrants were also exploited for forced labor and suffered extortion at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and the personnel of GNA institutions and GNA-aligned armed groups running GNA facilities. International organizations reported many cases of migrants’ disappearance due in part to the practice of selling migrants to human traffickers.
In November 2017 the government set up an ad hoc investigative committee, under the auspices of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, to investigate reports of migrants sold into slavery; however, as of year’s end, the committee had made no indictments.
In June the UN Security Council and a western government imposed international and domestic sanctions against six persons, four Libyans and two Eritreans; Fitiwi Abdelrazak, Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Ermias Ghermay, Mohammed Kachlaf, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, and Mus’ab Abu Qarin, for involvement in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya. The GNA was supportive of the sanctions and took independent action in response to the levying of these sanctions during the year, including public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and in support of human rights.
In January the GNA launched an investigation into trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants and refugees and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. During the year the GNA authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country, assist refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. These international organizations encouraged the GNA to adopt a system for registering the arrivals of migrants in Libya; of the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Libya, only a few thousand have been registered.
There were approximately 20 official detention centers operational during the year. At year’s end 6-8,000 refugees and migrants were housed in centers under the auspices of the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration.
According to IOM the number of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya during the first half of the year decreased significantly from the equivalent period in 2017, from approximately 85,000 to 16,700 individuals. Over 1,000 migrants died attempting to make the crossing via the central Mediterranean route during this period. 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 over-loaded, and there was a high risk of sinking. The number of migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, while still in the country’s territorial waters, greatly increased during the year. There were reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains.
In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in western Libya, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints around Benghazi and Derna and in the south to intercept members of extremist organizations. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations. There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad since Libya lacked a unified customs and immigration system.
Armed groups controlled movement within their territories through checkpoints. These checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.
There were multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by GNA-aligned 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. Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.
The 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 for obtaining permission, however. Authorities may revoke citizenship if obtained based on false information, forged documents, and withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.
If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas 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.
In September IOM and UNHCR estimated there were 192,000 IDPs in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi; however, due to tribal violence in the south, displacement in Sabha and neighboring southern towns increased during the year. More than 30,000 members of the Tawerghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population; however, in August the GNA provided support that allowed several hundred Tawerghan families to return to their hometown. These efforts followed a reconciliation agreement between representatives of Tawergha and the city of Misrata that aimed to end ongoing violence between the two communities dating to 2011; however, delays in implementation of the agreement, which provided for safe return for all Tawerghan IDPs to the town of Tawergha, have prevented some members of the community from returning.
IOM identified more than 19,000 persons who were internally displaced during clashes in Tripoli in late August and early September.
IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services to IDPs, including to those with disabilities.
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 GNA did not establish a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. UNHCR, IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in GNA detention centers. On December 4, UNHCR, in coordination with Libyan authorities, evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger. The GNA allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), Eritreans, Yemenis, and South Sudanese. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The GNA cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU, and the United Nations.
In July 2017 Libyan authorities proposed that UNHCR rehabilitate an abandoned facility in the Tarek Al Sika area in Tripoli to accommodate persons of concern temporarily. UNHCR completed rehabilitation on July 19, and the center has a capacity of 1,000 persons. Although UNHCR planned to begin receiving refugees at this Gathering and Departure Facility in August, armed clashes in Tripoli postponed its opening until December.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: IOM estimated that the overall number of migrants in Libya grew 70 percent from an estimated 400,000 in August 2017 to approximately 680,000 by September. The majority of migrants came from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 55,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country since 2011.
During the year UNHCR, ICRC, and IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite security challenges humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of the coastal city of Derna and the Fezzan region in the south.
Sub-Saharan Africans reportedly entered the country illegally through unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them. Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups 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 GNA did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.
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 were 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 paternity. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from travel abroad and certain educational opportunities. Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.
Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no credible data on the number of stateless persons.