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 Speech and 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 seat in Tripoli in March, 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.
Press and Media Freedoms: Press freedoms were limited in practice because increased threats, including abductions and killings by a range of assailants, including militias and violent extremists forced many journalists to practice self-censorship. These limits were present in print media, broadcast media, and book publication.
There were few reports of the closing of media outlets, but there were some 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.
Violence and Harassment: Reportedly, attacks on the media, including harassment and killings of; and threats, abductions, and violence against media personnel continued to 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.
While harassment of journalists was commonplace during the year, more serious crimes against journalists were widespread. There were reports of the arbitrary detention and torture of journalists. On July 29, authorities detained Libyan photojournalist, Selim al-Shebl, while he covered antigovernment protests in Tripoli, but authorities released him without any charges after a few days of detention at the Ain Zara district.
In August, Misratan forces arbitrarily detained two journalists who worked for a major foreign newspaper and tortured one before releasing them without charge.
Unknown assailants killed several journalists.
On June 24, photojournalist Khaled al-Zintani was shot in Benghazi, and on July 21, photojournalist Abdelqadir Fassouk was killed while covering clashes between pro-GNA forces and Da’esh in Sirte.
On October 2, Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans was killed in Sirte.
Kidnapping of journalists was also widespread throughout the year. In January media worker Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was kidnapped from his workplace in Tripoli.
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 and militia fighting created areas of hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing sides. Additionally journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation.
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 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.” In view of the prevalence of self-censorship and the pressure and intimidation of nonstate actors, the government did not resort to its use during the year.
Nongovernmental Impact: The control of Derna, Sirte, and parts of Benghazi by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.
Reports from NGOs indicated various parties, including civilians, attacked journalists and media outlets, noting that lack of professionalism in the media sector exacerbated violence from those who disagreed with what media reported.
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.
Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to a World Bank study, 19 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.
The government did not exercise effective control over civilian 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. Some activists reported finding what appeared to be “kill lists” targeting civilian dissenters on social media websites affiliated with certain Islamist militias.
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 ASSEMBLY
The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly; however, the government failed to provide for these rights. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations 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.
Absent an effective security and judicial apparatus, the government lacked the ability to provide for freedom of assembly. The government failed to protect protesters and, conversely, to manage protester violence during the year. On May 5, according to the government, the LNA indiscriminately shelled peaceful demonstrators in the al-Kisk square in Benghazi.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. In practice, however, the government could not enforce 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.”
The country continued to serve as the primary departure point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, with more than 90 percent of those crossing the Mediterranean irregularly leaving from Libya. As of November 22, more than 168,000 migrants arrived in Italy per UNSMIL, with 4,164 migrants dying at sea. Boats were heavily overloaded, and there was a high risk of being lost or capsizing. For example, on October 5, 28 migrants suffocated on a boat off the Libyan coast that was carrying more than 1,000 migrants.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Some 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. Conditions on boats departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Migrants reported some human smugglers were Libyan nationals, but officials did little to curb the departures or hold smugglers accountable for crimes against migrants.
In-country Movement: The government did not exercise control over in-country movement, although the LNA established checkpoints targeting extremist movements around Benghazi and Derna.
Militias effectively controlled regional movements through armed checkpoints. Militia checkpoints and those imposed by Da’esh, Ansar al-Sharia, and other extremist organizations impeded movement within the country 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 western Libyan airports controlled by pro-GNA militias due to a lack of a “male guardian,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
In August the IOM estimated there were 348,372 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Most of the Libyans displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi.
Limited access to towns affected by fighting between rival armed groups hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.
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. During the year UNSMIL, with the help of the EU, sponsored talks between Misratans and Tawarghans to facilitate the return of Tawarghans to their homes. At year’s end there was no resolution on their return to Tawargha.
On January 9, unidentified forces fired at least four rockets at two IDP camps in Benghazi, according to HRW.
IDPs continued to be vulnerable to abuses. The government was unable 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
The IOM estimated that approximately 277,000 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 38,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
During the year UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the IOM provided basic services through local NGO 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 porous 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.
On July 1, an AI report documented rampant sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation of migrants and refugees by traffickers, and criminal gangs. These human rights abuses occurred at unofficial and official detention centers and at the hands of Libyan coast guard and immigration officers.
Access to Asylum: Libya is not party to the 1951 refugee convention or the 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. The government allows 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.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR can access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the government apparatus, whose health and education infrastructure is limited, did not grant refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services.
By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. 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.
The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg, 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 current number of stateless persons.
Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment. The government did not take action to alleviate the difficulties of stateless persons.