The 2011 Constitutional Declaration functions as the interim constitution. It states Islam is the state religion and sharia is the principal source of legislation, but it accords Christians and Jews the freedom to practice their religions and guarantees state respect for their personal status laws. The Constitutional Declaration prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion. Christian and Jewish familial religious matters, such as divorce and inheritance, are governed according to the practices of the religious community to which the individual belongs, provided they are consistent with the law. Sharia, however, applies in any case in which a Muslim is involved. The Constitutional Declaration also states, “There shall be no discrimination among Libyans on the basis of religion or sect” with regard to legal, political, and civil rights. The penal code and other laws provide criminal penalties for convictions of defamation and insults to religion; in practice these are generally applied only to cases involving Islam. The law does not recognize religious minority communities other than Christians and Jews and does not accord these other groups equal rights under the law. The laws governing religious practice predate the internal conflict.
The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) administers mosques, supervises clerics, and has primary responsibility for ensuring all Islamic religious practices conform to state-approved Islamic norms.
Sharia courts govern family matters for Muslims, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. Under the law, a Christian or Jewish woman who marries a Muslim man is not required to convert to Islam; however, a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. Marriages between Muslim men and women of non-Abrahamic faiths are illegal, and such marriages are not recognized, even when conducted abroad. The MEIA administers non-Muslim family law issues, although there is no separate legal framework governing non-Islamic family law. The ministry draws upon neighboring countries’ family law precedents for non-Muslims and determines whether practices of other religious communities pertaining to family issues are consistent with the law.
Religious instruction in Islam is required in public and private schools. Attendance at religious instruction is mandatory for all students, with no opt-out provisions.
There is no law providing for individuals’ right to choose or change their religion or to study, discuss, or promulgate their religious beliefs. There is no civil law explicitly prohibiting conversion from Islam to another religion or prohibiting proselytizing; however, the criminal code effectively prohibits missionary activities or conversion, according to scholars and human rights advocates. It includes prohibitions against “instigating division” and insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, charges that carry a maximum sentence of death. The criminal code prohibits the circulation of publications that aim to “change the fundamental principles of the constitution or the fundamental rules of the social structure,” which authorities use to criminalize the circulation of non-Islamic religious materials and speech considered “offensive to Muslims.”
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Between November 2021 and March 2022, the Tripoli-based ISA, which is closely aligned with GNU Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba, arrested several young activists who were reported to be peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and detained them with little or no contact with the outside world. According to UN bodies and human rights organizations, the ISA arrested the activists arbitrarily and subjected them to intimidation, harassment, forced confessions, and torture. According to Amnesty International, the ISA posted videos of seven activists “‘confessing’ under apparent duress” as well as their “alleged communications with atheists, agnostics, Quaranists, feminists, and secularists both online and in person.” In March, Amnesty reported that authorities transferred the men to two prisons. The NGO Humanists International reported that at least five of those arrested were members of an affiliate in country, the Tanweer (“Enlightenment”) Movement. Tanweer announced its closure on March 13.
On March 26, the public prosecutor announced that several members of Tanweer had been charged with “spreading atheism.” His statement also said that ISA was opening an investigation into the Tanweer movement and confirmed the prosecution of the individuals for “calling for the abandonment of religion” and “attempting to destroy one of the fundamental structures of the social order.” According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, members of Tanweer’s board, fearing for their safety, fled overseas, while other individuals identified in the activists’ “confessions,” went into hiding after receiving death threats. In September, the UN Support Mission in Libya and NGOs reported that authorities had systematically denied the individuals’ rights to due process and a fair public trial. In December, four of the activists were sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting the State’s religion” and “misusing the internet.” Both the prosecution and the defense have the option to appeal.
Human rights observers reported that the government continued to harass and prosecute Christians who had converted from Islam.
Multiple authorities and armed groups continued to vie for influence and territorial control in the country, with GNU control limited primarily to the more populous northwest of the country. The GNU, however, was dependent on the assistance of armed groups, and the LNA controlled the larger territory, primarily in the east and south. The aspiring rival Government of National Stability claimed authority but showed limited ability to control the areas in the south and east where it was able to operate, was largely unrecognized abroad, and fell under influence of the LNA. Foreign military forces, fighters, and mercenaries continued to operate in the country, reinforcing units aligned with both the GNU and the LNA. Informal, nonstate armed groups were the main security actors across the country.
According to press and social media reports, the SDF, a nominally GNU-aligned armed group in Tripoli, continued to enforce Islamic law in some parts of the capital and, according to human rights activists, arrest and detain individuals whom it suspected of violating Islamic law. Human rights activists said freedom of conscience for converts to Christianity, atheists, and Muslims who deviated from Salafist interpretations of Islam was not respected. Christian groups operating in the country again identified the SDF as among the Islamic militant groups involved in the harassment of Christians.
Armed groups provided security and administered detention centers for migrants and refugees in the country, where, according to multiple international human rights organizations, Christians said they faced a higher risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape, than other migrants and refugees. According to an international organization, in 2021, an underage migrant girl taken to a detention center survived sexual abuse and rape at the hands of traffickers and was insulted and mistreated because of her Christian faith.
Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
The Christian rights advocacy group MEC reported that in May, MEIA called on the General Authority for Communications and Information to close and forbid several types of websites, including those calling for “youth to follow other religions” or advocating “atheism and devil worship.”
Some detention facilities had no provision for non-Islamic burials.
Following a February 15 hearing, a court ordered the Union Church of Tripoli, a Christian congregation, to vacate its building or face forcible eviction. The church had used the building as its house of worship for over 50 years, having moved there after the government expropriated its building. Three other Protestant multinational churches also used the building for worship. The court decision came as the result of the government returning this property to the heirs of the original owners from whom the building had been expropriated. As of October, the church was looking into other rental opportunities but had not yet secured a location.
The Ministry of Education said it continued to work to promote religious tolerance in the country through the dissemination of civil education curricula for grades four through nine designed to promote inclusivity and tolerance. According to the ministry, the curricula aimed to replace previous material containing discriminatory language directed at non-Muslims.
According to human rights activists, civil society figures, and politicians, the role of Islam in policymaking remained a major point of contention among supporters and opponents of political Islam, Salafist groups, and those who wished for a greater separation between religion and politics. According to a University of Massachusetts academic, supporters of political Islam encompassed a range of political movements concerned with giving Islam an authoritative status in political life, including political groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and others.
Members of some religious groups reported that religious staff had difficulties securing visas to travel or reside in the country.
The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs issued instructions to imams in September to warn citizens of the heresy of celebrating the Prophet’s birthday, a Sufi tradition.
The MV Logos Hope, a ship whose website describes it as the “world’s largest floating bookfair” and operated by a German faith-based organization, received permission to dock in Benghazi, Misrata, and Tripoli in August. Sheikh al-Sadiq al-Ghariani, regarded by the Muslim Brotherhood and others as the country’s Grand Mufti, accused the ship of proselytism, and the High Commission for Fatwa, a quasi-governmental authority, issued a fatwa against the ship and urged Libyans to “fight the attack on their faith” and “do whatever you can to prevent this plague from docking in any port….” The chief censor of the Publications Department of the Ministry of Education asked the boat operators to remove 260 books from the list of exhibited books, to which the ship’s operators agreed.
The mayor of Misrata issued a statement asking the security of the Misrata Port to prevent the ship from docking, which resulted in the cancellation of the ship’s permission to dock in that city. After the Logos Hope was able to dock in Benghazi, the Islamic Awqaf in Bengazhi issued a statement on August 8 calling on Libyans to boycott the ship and prevent any kind of communication with it. In a video posted on their Facebook page, they accused the ship of trying to “Christianize” Libyans and called it a threat to the Islamic faith, quoting Quranic verses critical of Christians and Jews. On August 10, the Benghazi Awqaf issued a statement to imams, directing them to speak in their Friday sermons against “Christian proselytization.” A senior imam who headed the Committee for Cultural and Proselytization Issues at the Benghazi Awqaf posted a 20-minute speech on Facebook about the ship in which he called Christians “the enemy of God, poisonous, dirty, and deceptive,” and he said they aimed to convert Muslim youth. According to an NGO, the contractor hired to organize the ship’s port visits said that as a result of threats and harassment, the vessel could no longer dock in the country, and he had to move the ship to another country and was unable to return to Libya.
There was no information available regarding whether authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment or allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance.
Actions by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
Throughout the year, nonstate actors and armed groups continued to operate and control territory throughout the country, including in the capital and all major cities. Some areas of the country, including the eastern part, operated under the influence of the LNA and LNA-affiliated armed groups.
On January 23, a militia affiliated with the LNA destroyed a building in Sebha that according to press reporting, had been used as a church for decades. Local officials said the destruction was part of an operation in the area against smuggling, human trafficking, and other illegal activities. Bystanders confirmed that other buildings in the vicinity were also destroyed in the operation. To date, neither the LNA nor other authorities have provided compensation for the destruction or offered a replacement for the building, which served as the city’s only church.
LNA-aligned Salafist-Madkhali groups as well as the SDF continued to act as self-appointed morality police, according to knowledgeable observers, cracking down on activities not sanctioned by their strict interpretation of Islam, including the sale of books deemed un-Islamic and events where men and women mixed.
In recent years, Salafist groups, including Madkhalis, targeted Sufi holy sites and suppressed Sufi practices, according to the al-Mostagir Billah Center. The center stated that more than 530 Sufi religious sites were destroyed between 2011 and 2020. Participation in public Sufi ceremonies declined significantly after the 2011 revolution, according to embassy contacts, press reporting, and other sources, as Sufis feared reprisals for practicing in public. During October, Sufis celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad in the Old City of Tripoli, and they resumed celebrations of Sheikh Abd al-Salam Asmar in the city of Zliten, as they did in 2021 and 2020.
In Tripoli, according to civil society representatives, some armed groups, such as the SDF, continued to impose restrictions on women’s dress and punish behavior by men that they deemed “un-Islamic.”
In March, an unidentified militia group released Nigerian pastor Femi Abraham, whom it had detained without charges in 2021. A relative of the man who had detained Abraham said his detention was due to the pastor’s attempt to open a church.
MEC reported that police arrested foreign Christians, along with some non-Christian Libyans, celebrating Christmas and the New Year in Misrata following a warning that they did not represent the country’s (Muslim) religion or beliefs.
According to academic researchers, the General Administration for Criminal Investigation in Benghazi continued to conduct investigations of citizens for denigrating Islam, for converting others to Christianity, and for proselytizing on social media.
According to human rights activists and political analysts, authorities in the east of the country continued to provide texts for Friday services to imams, often including political and social messages.
U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, including AQIM and ISIS, continued to operate in a limited fashion within the country, particularly in the south, but they no longer controlled territory inside it. On December 19, the press reported that a Tripoli prosecutor announced that a court had sentenced 17 former ISIS members to death for joining the group and killing 53 people in the western city of Sabratha. The court also gave 16 defendants lesser sentences and sentenced two individuals to life imprisonment.
On August 27, clashes between armed groups in Tripoli resulted in minor damage to a church building, though there was no evidence that the church was specifically targeted for violence. There were no reports during the year of explicitly religiously motivated attacks by these groups.