New Libya law 'betrays revolution'
By Essam Mohamed in Tripoli for Magharebia – 14/02/2014
A recent amendment to Libya's Penal Code is sparking debate over how far lawmakers will go to protect their interests.
Under the law approved by the General National Congress (GNC), anyone who publicly insults legislative, executive or judicial authorities can be punished with a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
The GNC voted on the amended provision on February 5th, two days ahead of nationwide demonstrations against extending the body's mandate.
The congress defends the change to article 195 as a way to insulate legislative powers from threats, while critics view the move as an assault on free speech.
Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani is among the opponents of the measure.
"This law is against the principles of revolution," al-Marghani said. "We were surprised when it was issued, and we'll appeal against it before the constitutional court," the minister added.
The regional branch of rights watchdog group Amnesty International went further, linking the amendment to Moamer Kadhafi-style repression.
"Three years ago Libyans took to the streets to demand greater freedom, not another authoritarian rule," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of the group's North Africa division said on Wednesday (February 12th).
"What is the difference between not being able to criticise Kadhafi's Al-Fateh Revolution or the February 17th Revolution? Behind both is the idea that expression is limited and some issues of taboo," she said.
Libyan authorities, she warned, were "headed down a dangerous path".
"The amendment is nothing more than a semantic alteration - substituting the name of one revolution with another. It is a copy and paste job of legislation from the Kadhafi-era and a flagrant attempt to undermine freedom of expression."
The toppled dictator had "routinely used repressive legislation to silence his critics and political opponents", she pointed out, and. to replace his policies now with "carbon-copy laws [would be] a clear betrayal of the aspirations of the 17 February Revolution".
Libyans are also seeing echoes of the former regime.
"The GNC is inspired by the former People's Congress at the time of Kadhafi," writer Ali Makhlouf Akila said.
The timing of the amendment passage is another source of controversy. As former interim health minister Fatima Hamroush noted, that the law was issued "two days before sit-ins were planned against the extension of GNC mandate".
"It's very clear from the timing of the law that its goal was to prepare for what might happen after it was issued," Hamroush told Magahrebia.
She wondered, "Will the law be applied to all those who attacked the symbols of state since the February 17th revolution or will it be applied only to things taking place after its issue? What about the last three years? What entity will apply the law? And how?"
"As there is no accountability for the legislative and executive authorities, and as there are no laws that similarly hold to account those authorities, this law will help consolidate express dictatorship and endless bondage," the former minister concluded.
Political activist Ayad Kechada also voiced concerns over the amendment: "The GNC is insulting the people's will by seeking to silence them and confiscate their freedom, especially their freedom of expression."
"This law seeks to immunise the GNC members," he said.
"That reprehensible law was to protect themselves from the people who are angry with their acts," Tripoli travel agency owner Nouredine Mehalhal agreed.
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.