Deepening crackdown on civil society

Delivered by

the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell

We are concerned by the deepening crackdown on civil society in Libya, where arbitrary arrests and a campaign of social media vilification are having a seriously chilling effect on human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, and other civil society actors.

Members of the Internal Security Agency and state-affiliated armed groups have arbitrarily detained human rights defenders and civil society actors, under the pretence of protecting “Libyan and Islamic values”, and have subjected them to torture, verbal harassment and intimidation.

Seven men, aged between 19 and 29, were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Internal Security Agency (ISA), in Tripoli between November 2021 and March this year. The ISA has since posted videos of the seven men on Facebook, in which they seemingly confess to being “atheist, areligious, secular and feminist”, and to using social media to propagate atheism and contempt for religion.

We have received allegations that these confessions were obtained by coercion, raising serious concerns regarding the use of torture, which is absolutely prohibited. These confessions also implicate several other men and women, many of whom have now gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

The Facebook videos have sparked a wave of hate speech against human rights defenders. In fact, a list of activists has been circulating on social media with calls to prosecute those on it as apostates under Sharia law and sentence them to death (if found guilty).

On 13 March 2022, the Tanweer Movement, a prominent social campaign for gender equality and social and cultural rights, was dissolved and members of its board of directors have fled overseas fearing for their safety. Other organizations, including the Libyan Rational Dialogue and Al-Baraka, are  being targeted with online hate speech and threats.

We call on the Libyan authorities to immediately stop this aggressive campaign against Libyans exercising and defending their human rights, and to immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained, while also ensuring the protection of those named in coerced “confessions”.

The Libyan authorities should also launch prompt and effective investigations into the alleged human rights violations, including allegations of torture, and hold all alleged perpetrators to account, including members of the Internal Security Agency.

A safe, open, and democratic space is critical for Libya, and it cannot be built without full respect for freedom of expression and association.