Freedom on the Net 2022 - Libya

/ 100
Obstacles to Access 8 / 25
Limits on Content 21 / 35
Violations of User Rights 15 / 40
48 / 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.


Internet freedom declined in Libya, in large part due to a systemic crackdown on online activists, bloggers, and journalists that began in December 2021. The online space, which has flourished in the post-Qadhafi era, became less diverse during the coverage period as internet users increasingly self-censored and online activists ceased their activities in response to harassment from authorities. Libya’s House of Representatives ratified the Cybercrime Law, which includes harsh penalties for online speech, gives authorities power to block websites, and criminalizes the use of encryption tools. Journalists, activists, and bloggers also continue to face online harassment, arbitrary detention, and, in some cases, physical violence relating to their online activity. While investments are being made to begin to rebuild some of the internet infrastructure damaged during the ongoing conflict, internet penetration remained low.

Libya has been racked by internal divisions and intermittent civil conflict since a popular armed uprising in 2011 deposed longtime dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Since then, more than a decade of violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and human rights conditions have steadily deteriorated. International efforts to bring rival administrations together in a unity government succeeded in early 2021, creating a fragile peace. However, parliamentary and presidential elections planned for December 2021 were indefinitely postponed. Tensions between rival eastern and western factions rose as Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah refused to cede power to Fathi Bashagha, a replacement prime minister chosen by the Tobruk-based parliament who, after some violence in Tripoli when he attempted to take control, moved to the city of Sirte.

Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • While no internet shutdowns occurred during the coverage period, disruptions to the internet and mobile connectivity were reported in July and August 2022, after the coverage period (see A3).
  • In October 2021, Libya’s House of Representatives ratified the Cybercrime Law, which negatively impacts free expression online in several ways. Among other provisions, the law gives authorities the ability to block websites and monitor online users; it also criminalizes the use of encryption tools and penalizes certain types of online speech (see B1, B3, C2, C4, and C5).
  • Content creators who are women, LGBT+ people, and activists have increasingly self-censored as government persecution has risen. The online space, which is increasingly manipulated by powerful figures, became correspondingly less diverse during the coverage period (see B4 and B7).
  • Ahead of the scheduled presidential elections in December 2021, political parties and powerful figures used Facebook to spread disinformation and manipulate the online narrative around the vote, which was ultimately postponed (see B5).
  • The Internal Security Agency (ISA) arrested at least seven activists due to their alleged involvement in the Tanweer movement, an organization known for its online mobilization and campaigning activities (see B8 and C3).
  • Libya remains an incredibly dangerous place for journalists and bloggers, and online users were arrested, forcibly kidnapped, and physically assaulted during the coverage period. At least one person was killed during the coverage period in retaliation for their social media posts (see C3 and C7).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 2 / 6

The ongoing civil conflict in Libya has created obstacles to internet access. Users across the country remain frustrated by inconsistent internet service, which is frequently interrupted by power cuts. Poor connectivity is also due in part to high demand combined with infrastructure damage, unauthorized construction, sabotage, and theft of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment.1

Though figures vary widely, internet penetration appears to be increasing in recent years. As of January 2022, there were 3.47 million internet users and 11.87 million mobile connections in Libya. The internet penetration rate stood at 49.6 percent, an increase from 2021.2 However, speeds decreased during the coverage period. According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the median mobile and broadband download speeds in May 2022 were 8.35 megabits per second (Mbps) and 9.44 Mbps, respectively. The median mobile and broadband upload speeds were 4.92 Mbps and 4.83 Mbps, respectively.3

After years of stagnation in the telecommunications sector due to the conflict, during the coverage period several plans to improve infrastructure and services began. In September 2021, the Libyan Post Telecommunications and Information Technology Company (LPTIC) announced plans to deploy long-term evolution (LTE) services to the south of the country, helping to close the geographic digital gap residents face (see A2).4 As part of this plan, mobile service providers Al-Madar and Libyana began rolling out fourth-generation (4G) services in southern cities in October 2021.5 In July 2021, Hatif Libya, a subsidiary of the LPTIC, had announced a multimillion dollar project in partnership with California-based company Infinera to provide internet and mobile services in underserved areas.6

Despite a large decline in the use of fixed-line services due to the ongoing conflict, the demand for high-speed broadband has increased.7 In October 2020, state-owned internet service provider (ISP) Al-Madar announced the successful installation of a trial fifth-generation (5G) technology network in Tripoli, stating that it planned to roll out 5G services in large cities by the end of 2020.8 However, development of a 5G network was stalled at the end of the coverage period.9

The ongoing conflict in Libya has left internet infrastructure in disarray. For example, about 25 percent of mobile towers have been damaged or stolen.10 Efforts to rebuild infrastructure have largely been stalled due to political and military disturbances; telecommunications services are regularly disrupted in the eastern region, in particular.11

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1 / 3

While prices have been reduced in recent years, the depreciation of the Libyan dinar and economic instability in the country has made the internet inaccessible for some people. There is a significant gap in access between urban and rural areas, although plans to expand access to the rural southern areas of the country were launched during the coverage period (see A1).12

Libyana started offering weekly and monthly packages with affordable prices from as low as 1 Libyan dinar ($0.22) for 50 megabytes (MB) of data.13 In August 2021, Libyana introduced “off-peak” packages directed at high-demand users like gamers and streamers.14 In mid-2020, Libya’s regulator imposed a 50 percent reduction in subscription fees for internet services.15 Fees for internet services, and specifically the 4G mobile services that were launched by Al-Madar and Libyana, were periodically reduced by the LPTIC throughout the previous coverage period.16

In 2020, the head of the General Authority for Communications and Informatics (GACI), issued a decree cutting internet package prices from state-owned telecommunications companies by 50 percent. According to the decree, internet subscription and data usage fees would be cut in the companies affiliated with the authority to improve communication services and promote digital literacy across age groups.17

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 4 / 6

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because no disruptions to internet or mobile services were documented during the coverage period, although shutdowns were reported in July and August 2022, after the coverage period had ended.

Restrictions on connectivity are uncommon in Libya, although internet shutdowns occurred in July and August 2022, after the coverage period.18 In August 2022, an internet shutdown lasting five hours was reported in the eastern city of Tobruk around the time that Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF)—the eastern interim government’s armed forces—visited the city.19 Authorities provided no information about the shutdown. Similar reports indicated that a brief internet shutdown occurred in July 2022 during Haftar’s visit to the city of Darna. In early July 2022, internet shutdowns and mobile disruptions were recorded following protests in Tobruk.20

In September 2020, local authorities in the eastern part of Libya—then under the control of the interim government affiliated with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which was backed by the LAAF—restricted mobile internet connectivity amid protests. Demonstrations broke out early that month as people in Benghazi protested corruption and deteriorating living conditions. The interim government reportedly ordered mobile providers Al-Madar and Libyana to throttle 4G service to hinder protesters’ efforts to mobilize.21 Additionally, there were reports in September 2020 that local authorities in southern Libya disrupted 4G service in Tabu ethnic areas.22

In August 2019, after the LAAF took control of the southern city of Murzuq, armed Government of National Accord (GNA) fighters launched a surprise attack to retake the city. During the attack, the local authorities cut off access to the Libyana and Al-Madar networks in order to control the situation.23

Hatif Libya, a subsidiary of the LPTIC, was established in 2008 and controls the fiber-optic backbone network servicing Libya.24 The centralization of internet traffic through the LPTIC allows authorities to restrict the internet.25

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 1 / 6

The state-run LPTIC, formerly the General Post and Telecommunications Company (GPTC), is the main telecommunications operator. In 1999, the GPTC awarded the first ISP license to Libya Telecom and Technology (LTT), a subsidiary of the state-owned firm.26

Since the fall of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, 25 ISPs and 23 very small aperture terminal (VSAT) operators have been licensed to compete with state-owned ISPs. Many are based in Tripoli and are owned by individuals with strong ties to governing authorities. The LPTIC owns two mobile phone providers, Al-Madar and Libyana, while a third provider, Libya Phone, is owned by LTT.

The LPTIC has been affected by the country’s political crisis and de facto split. Separate offices were established in Malta (representing the Tobruk government) and Tripoli (representing the Tripoli government). However, the LPTIC announced in January 2017 that divisions between its board of directors had been resolved in a court case, a ruling that was upheld the same year. In March 2018, the LPTIC head announced that the body had reunified;27 it began holding meetings and announced $1.7 billion worth of new information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure projects.28

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0 / 4

Libya’s regulatory environment is plagued by ongoing disputes over the country’s political governance.

The ICT regulator is the GACI, formerly known as the General Telecom Authority (GTA). During the Qadhafi era, decisions on licensing were made by the government-controlled GPTC (now the LPTIC).29 After the revolution, the transitional government established the Ministry of Communications and Informatics to oversee the telecommunications sector. Officially, the ministry runs the sector through two main bodies: LPTIC and GACI. The GACI is nominally responsible for policymaking and regulations, while the LPTIC is a holding company for all telecommunications service providers in the country. Libya’s top-level domain, “.ly,” falls under the responsibility of LTT. In 2017, the Appeals Court in Tripoli ruled that LPTIC chairman Faisal Gergab, backed by the GNA, and his management team were the sole legitimate representatives of LPTIC.30

In 2014, the Ministry of Communications and Informatics appointed a committee to draft a new Telecommunication Act to set standards for the sector and replace existing regulations surrounding ICTs. The act, which has been drafted but not implemented,31 also aims to create an independent Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) to oversee the industry.32

Separately, in May 2019, the internationally recognized government announced the suspension of 40 foreign firms, including telecommunications equipment firm Alcatel-Lucent (now owned by Finland’s Nokia) and Microsoft, saying they needed to renew their licenses. While the companies were granted a grace period in which to do so, the move was described by some analysts as a politically motivated decision designed to press for greater support for internationally recognized authorities, as the LAAF was attacking rival forces in Tripoli at the time.33

B Limits on Content

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6 / 6

The blocking of websites for partisan reasons has been infrequent in the post-Qadhafi era. Many pornographic websites were blocked in 2013 by LTT, but the main operators in Libya, including LTT, Libyana, and Al-Madar, did not perform any type of censorship on pornographic content during the coverage period. Small ISPs may have blocks on some websites with pornographic content (see B3).

In October 2021, the Libyan House of Representatives approved the Cybercrime Law, which provides authorities with the power to block websites that host “unwanted” content without judicial authorization (see B3 and C2).34 The law had not been enforced as of the end of the coverage period.

In June 2021, the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs (GAEIA)—the country’s religious institution that also manages the assets donated for charitable purposes under Islamic law—wrote a letter to the GACI urging the regulator to block websites containing pornography, as well as websites about Satan, atheism, terrorism, and Takfirist extremist groups. The religious authority also called on the GACI to use Article 35 of the Constitution (see C1), which enables authorities to rely on Qadhafi-era laws to punish those who misuse the internet.35

Separately, many Qadhafi-era government webpages containing information on laws and regulations from before the uprising are inaccessible, as is the online archive of the old state-run Libyan newspapers. Some of these websites may have become defunct after the officials running them were ousted or hosting fees were left unpaid, but others were likely taken down deliberately when the revolutionaries came to power.

YouTube,36 Twitter,37 and international blog-hosting services38 were freely available during the coverage period. In 2018, Facebook was temporarily inaccessible in Tripoli and several other cities while fighting between militant groups was taking place. The LPTIC claimed that technical errors and power outages caused the block.39

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 3 / 4

Authorities do not frequently request that private providers or intermediaries delete content. Rather, there are coordinated efforts to “report” Facebook pages for deletion, particularly for political views against militias.

In previous reporting periods, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have removed content at the government’s request. However, such removals are relatively uncommon, and no takedown requests were made during the reporting period.40

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 2 / 4

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because a new Cybercrime Law includes concerning provisions that provide authorities with the ability to block websites and remove online content.

A 2006 law mandates that websites registered under the “.ly” domain must not contain content that is “obscene, scandalous, indecent, or contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality.”41 Prior to the war, “indecency” was prohibited by law, but sexually explicit sites were not typically blocked. However, blocks of such material have been enforced in the post-Qadhafi era (see B1).

In practice, the procedures for the blocking of sites are opaque. When accessing a banned website, users are shown a message from the service provider stating that the site has been blocked. During the reporting period, it appeared that no websites were blocked by state-owned companies, including pornography sites; smaller ISPs may still block some content but the reason for this is unclear (see B1).

The October 2021 Cybercrime Law includes vague provisions around website blocking and content removal. Should the law be enforced, “unwanted” content could be blocked or removed without judicial authorization (see B1, C2, C4, and C5).42

At times, social media companies have arbitrarily removed the accounts or content of Libyan users due to issues with moderating Arabic content. One Libyan academic reported that Twitter removed their post with no explanation, likely due to the use of colloquial Arabic phrases.43

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1 / 4

The 2011 revolution brought a notable increase in the number of bloggers writing within Libya, many of whom expressed hope for the future, discussed political activism, and voiced criticism of authorities. However, those who choose to use their real names and photos online have been targeted with criminal prosecution, harassment, and kidnappings (see C3 and C7).44 Online users that continue to practice self-censorship due to instability, increasing threats, and violence against journalists still may face threats from state-affiliated actors.45

Repressive legislation targeting online speech and a systemic crackdown on activists has led more online users to self-censor during the coverage period.46 The October 2021 Cybercrime Law could lead to further self-censorship.47 Article 37 introduces harsh penalties for a large swath of online speech, hindering free expression online (see C2). Article 9 of the law criminalizes the use of encryption tools used to protect the privacy of online users (see C4). Online users could choose to self-censor out of fear of retribution if they are unable to protect their identity online.48

Members of the internationally recognized government, namely officials from the Internal Security Agency (ISA), have expressed hostility to critical and independent journalism, and those who voice dissent, criticism of militia groups or leaders, or other controversial views (such as religious commentary) risk retaliation.49 Online users avoid discussing taboo subjects such as sex, drugs, and homosexuality.50 Press freedom groups have documented many cases of disappearances, abduction, and torture of journalists (see C7).51 In a reflection of the extreme risk of speaking out in Libya, many journalists and their family members have requested that rights groups not identify them by name when they report on such abuses.52

Due to the political nature of the conflict in Libya, users and online journalists experienced hostility for content they post online.53 Some activists use fake accounts or self-censored on social media to avoid repercussions by the government, especially when posting content relating to the current conflict.

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 1 / 4

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the drastic increase in government-sponsored disinformation and propaganda online, particularly ahead of the planned presidential election in December 2021 that did not take place.

Powerful figures including militia leaders and politicians deliberately manipulate the online narrative by spreading disinformation that aligns with their political or social agendas. During the ongoing civil conflict, Facebook pages have served as propaganda outlets for warring parties. These pages are generally opaque about their ownership, editorial policy, and publishing guidelines.54

Ahead of presidential elections scheduled for December 2021 that were ultimately indefinitely postponed, Facebook became a central platform for election-related disinformation. For example, a Facebook post falsely claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had kidnapped or killed the head of the government’s electoral administration went viral after being amplified by accounts that were supportive of presidential candidate Khalifa Haftar, who has spoken against Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.55 The Government of National Unity (GNU) party led by Abdelhamid Dbeibah created online platforms and Facebook pages to spread propaganda that advanced the party’s political interests ahead of the vote. The campaign was run by Walid Ellafi, the GNU’s minister of political communication.56 Reports allege that these platforms were financed through government funds.

Online disinformation is amplified by coordinated networks on social media. In December 2021, Meta—Facebook and Instagram’s parent company—reported that they removed a network of Facebook and Instagram accounts that were impersonating public figures, journalists, and activists in Libya and spreading disinformation about the upcoming election. Specifically, accounts impersonating female public figures would post humiliating or defamatory content about themselves as part of a critique on of the rise of women in politics. Reports allege that members of the Libyan Justice and Construction Party, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, were behind the disinformation networks.57 Around this time Twitter also removed around 50 accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior.58

In December 2020, Facebook announced that it had removed a network of accounts originating in Russia and Libya that sought to shape online narratives in Libya through inauthentic behavior. The network, which was active on Facebook and Instagram, mobilized support for the LAAF, shared pro-Qadhafi and pro-LAAF narratives, and attempted to disrupt the November 2020 Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which sought to build consensus on a national election framework.59 Twitter removed a similar network linked to LAAF media operatives and Libyan media professionals.60

Throughout the ongoing conflict, Libya’s main political parties have used hate speech, including tribal and regional prejudices, as propaganda (see C7).61 Furthermore, both traditional and online media are often used to mislead people in one side’s favor. An April 2019 report from online news outlet Development and Cooperation found that a British correspondent’s coverage of Tripoli, which appeared in Libyan online news outlet Al-Marsad, was rewritten to suggest support for Haftar and his forces. Additional propaganda tools include fake websites and Twitter trolls that manipulate the online narrative to favor certain political factions.62 Both GNA forces and the LAAF have used “victory propaganda and disinformation” on social media to mislead citizens about their success in the conflict.63 According to a report by the Institute for Security Studies, the conflict in Libya is not only dominated by military power but by propaganda and disinformation that the GNA and LAAF use to shape public opinion to their advantage, largely through social media.64

The posts of some Facebook users known as “keyboard warriors” manipulate information to widen ethnic divides or weaken state institutions.65 In March 2019, a Twitter campaign that translates to #SecuringTheCapital, advocated for Haftar to take control of Tripoli. According to the Stanford Internet Observatory, this hashtag was reportedly part of “foreign-initiated pro-Haftar social media campaigns.”66

In June 2020, LAAF forces withdrew from the west of the country Following the withdrawal, social media platforms were flooded by propaganda and hate speech. Accounts loyal to the GNA and the LAAF attempted to spin the events on the ground in their favor.67

Foreign governments may have sought to shape online narratives in Libya to align with their interests in regard to the civil war. Researchers have identified disinformation targeting Libyan audiences linked to Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, all of which have been involved in the conflict.68

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 3 / 3

There are few economic or regulatory constraints that inhibit individuals’ ability to publish content online. However, some journalists have experienced difficulties in securing visas and permits to gather information.69 Journalists have also faced media coverage bans in some areas, specifically in the east. At times, local security forces have refused to accept journalists’ press cards, as local authorities in every region require special procedures that differ from region to region.70

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 2 / 4

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because threats against diverse content creators including women, LGBT+ people, and activists have led to an increase in self-censorship and a less vibrant online space that is increasingly manipulated by powerful figures.

While the online media landscape is much more diverse than it was under the Qadhafi regime, a recent crackdown on free speech has increased self-censorship and decreased support for journalism.71 Authorities have taken more control over online content in recent years, and the information landscape has become a vacuum where content and news is largely controlled by armed groups and foreign actors.72 During the coverage period, a sustained crackdown on internet users including activists,73 journalists,74 and social media users resulted in a less diverse online landscape. Internet users who do not support the specific ideology or political interests of security agencies or militia have been threatened into silence, limiting the type of content internet users in Libya can access.75

Content about feminism, LGBT+ issues, and religious minorities has become less prevalent as authorities target members of these groups, driving many to cease their online activism or reporting (see B4).76 Since 2019, there has been only one online platform in Libya catering to the country’s LGBT+ population.77 While social media became a vibrant place for feminist content in the post-Qadhafi era, this space has shrunk in recent years as gender-based violence (GBV) online has increased, leading some prominent activists to cease their online activities.78

Facebook hosts hundreds of active pages dedicated to national and local news and serves as the main source of news covering Libya for many users inside and outside the country.79 Some of these pages are affiliated with professional television, radio, or print news outlets, while others lack professional standards. Likely due to the risk of reprisals for speaking freely, private Facebook pages are more likely than their public counterparts to host political debates.80

As of March 2020, Facebook, YouTube, and Google were the top three most visited sites, according to the SimilarWeb website rankings.81

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 3 / 6

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because authorities orchestrated a systemic crackdown on online activists, hindering citizens’ efforts to mobilize around political or social issues online.

While social media continues to be a forum for discussion, content discussed online has noticeably shifted to less overtly political issues over the past few years, and skepticism of the ability of digital activism to shape the political landscape amid the country’s ongoing turmoil has grown.

In December 2021, authorities began a systemic crackdown on activists that negatively impacted internet users’ ability to organize or mobilize campaigns online. Furthermore, the prime minister’s attack on rights-based civil society organization (CSOs) through arrests and harassment has made it more dangerous to form communities and campaign online, leading some organizations to suspend operations in Libya.82 Additionally, members of the GNA launched online defamation campaigns against prominent civil society leaders and organizations during the coverage period, falsely claiming they are “foreign or morally corrupt agents perverting Libyan society.”83 Also during the coverage period, an anti–gender equality campaign emerged, using hate speech and inciting violence against women activists.84

During the coverage period, the targeting of the Tanweer movement—a local CSO known for its liberal views and with strong online campaigning presence—had a chilling effect for online activism. In March 2022, the attorney general’s office released a statement about the arrest and investigation of members of the Tanweer movement on charges related to spreading atheism and criticizing Islam via their online statements, debates, and campaigns. The attorney general’s statement noted that the detainees would be prosecuted for these crimes (see C3).85 In February 2022, the group announced it was halting its activities and associated media.86

Prior to this crackdown, social media was a major vehicle for online organizing. LGBT+ people used social media to communicate and organize with relative safety. In 2019, the first LGBT+ web platform was launched to help serve as a safe space for members; LGBT+ people are frequently harassed or intimidated online and offline (see B7 and C7).87 Additionally, the Article40ly Facebook campaign gained popularity after the June 2020 ceasefire. Social media users in Libya who participated in the campaign highlighted the need for social peace, the preservation of cultural heritage, and a unified Libya. The campaign, which started on Facebook, has carried out many projects and awareness-raising activities, with participation from civil society organizations and local communities.88

In March 2018, young activists from across the country joined a Facebook page called the March 30th Movement, which called for peace and the reunification of Libya. Following a November 2018 attack that was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Tazirbu, a town under control of the LAAF.89 Several other social media campaigns have focused on supporting peace, a movement toward a unified government, or various social-justice causes; defending freedom of expression; and commemorating individuals murdered for their activism.

Authorities rarely disrupt access to the internet or social media to restriction mobilization. However, in July 2022, after the coverage period, internet shutdowns and mobile disruptions were recorded following protests in Tobruk (see A3).90 In September 2020, authorities in Benghazi ordered mobile providers to throttle 4G services amid anticorruption protests.91

In July 2021, a draft civil society decree was proposed by the GNU that further restricts the activities of CSOs, including online activities, by subjecting organizations to a code of conduct.92 Specifically, CSOs would have to register with the government, and authorities could monitor work and documents, control funding avenues, and seemingly restrict the work of CSOs arbitrarily. Furthermore, organizations would not be allowed to call themselves “press freedom” organizations, and all campaigns must be preapproved by authorities.93

C Violations of User Rights

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 1 / 6

Freedom of opinion, communication, and the press are guaranteed by Libya’s draft constitutional declaration, released by the Libyan Transitional National Council in September 2011.94 45 The draft constitution has yet to be publicly discussed or subsequently voted on. Delays in finalizing a constitution and the general absence of law enforcement have contributed to weak rule of law in the country.95 46 Without a permanent constitution, the role of the judiciary remains unclear, and most courts have been unable to function in much of the country.

Perpetrators of crimes against journalists and activists enjoy impunity, and the judicial system faces functional difficulties.96 Article 35 of the constitutional declaration states that any Qadhafi-era legislation remains in force so long as it does not contradict the constitution or until it is amended or repealed.97

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1 / 4

Several repressive Qadhafi-era laws remain on the books due to the absence of significant legal reforms in the country since the revolution. These include measures carrying harsh punishments for those who publish content deemed offensive or threatening to Islam, national security, or territorial integrity. A law on collective punishment is particularly egregious, allowing authorities to punish entire families, towns, or districts for the transgressions of one individual.98 Because of their vague wording, these laws can be applied to any form of speech, whether transmitted via the internet, mobile phone, or traditional media. There are no laws that explicitly criminalize online activity.

There are several laws that assign criminal or civil penalties for speech, presumably including online speech and expression. The Libyan Penal Code of 1953 criminalizes various forms of speech and expression and includes penalties for those who “insult public officials, the Libyan nation, offend or attack religions, insult a person’s honour, or cause discord.” In addition to the penal code, authorities have used the Publications Act Law 76 of 1972 to ban publications or issue certain reporting orders or decrees.99 The Law on Combating Terrorism of 2014 includes vague language that criminalizes “terrorist acts,” including expression that “disrupts public order or endangers peace of the society.”100

In October 2021, Libya’s House of Representatives ratified the Cybercrime Law, which includes harsh criminal penalties for online speech. Article 37 imposes up to 15 years in prison as well as a fine for anyone who shares or publishes “rumours” or “information or data that threaten security or public safety.” Other provisions in the law threaten the right to online privacy by criminalizing the use of encryption tools and increasing online surveillance (see C4 and C5).101 The legislation also extends extraterritorially to include crimes committed outside the country “if their impact and consequences extend to Libya.”102 The law has received significant criticism from domestic and foreign human rights organizations who argue that the law, which includes overly broad language, severely hinders free expression, and gives the Libyan judicial authorities undue power to criminalize legitimate speech.103

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2 / 6

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because more people were arrested in retaliation for their online content than in previous coverage periods.

There is very little transparency around arrests in response to online activity, and far more people are likely held in detention than is reported. At least four online users were arrested during the coverage period, while others were kidnapped by security forces or militia members; their locations remained unknown at the end of the coverage period (see C7).

A systemic crackdown by the Internal Security Agency (IAS), a state-funded militia headed by Lotfi al-Harari, against journalists, bloggers, and activists began in December 2021, and some arrests were in relation to online content. In March 2022, journalist Ali al-Rifawi was arrested by the ISA due to his reporting on the Sirte municipal government, which allegedly “inflamed public opinion.” Reports state that this arrest was part of the larger crackdown on activists, bloggers, and journalists by the ISA.104 Whether he was still detained as of June 2022 was unclear.

In December 2021, Hamza al-Treki, a political activist and blogger, was arrested by Joint Operations Forces after he uploaded a video of himself sharply criticizing the Libyan prime minister, Abdelhamid Dbeibah. al-Treki was held in detention for four months and released in March 2022.105 In June 2021, Mansour Atti—a prominent human rights defender, journalist, and blogger—was kidnapped in the city of Ajdabiya (see C7). In August, the LAAF confirmed that Atti was detained in an LAAF-controlled prison.106 He was released in April 2022.107

At least seven online activists were arrested during the coverage period, and videos of them allegedly confessing to the crimes they were charged with circulated online, although reporting indicates their confessions were likely coerced.108 In February 2022, the ISA accused these activists of participating in conversations on Facebook and Clubhouse about blasphemy, atheism, feminism, and criticizing Islam.109 They were also accused of being members of the Tanweer movement—a local CSO known for its online campaigns—and of working with international organizations to corrupt Libyan society (see B8).110 As of the end of the coverage period, no trial had taken place and all seven activists were believed to be in detention.

Social media users were arrested during the coverage period. In February 2022, a Libyan TikTok user known as “Hamoudy” was arrested, allegedly the Special Deterrence Forces (Rada), for “looking and acting feminine” in videos circulated online. After his arrest, a photo of Hamoudy with his hair shaved was posted by Rada members, potentially as a humiliation tactic.111 Another TikTok user known as “Kristina” was also arrested, allegedly by Rada, in February 2022, after posting videos online in which she “looked and acted masculine.” Similarly, a photo of her after the arrest was later released online.112

Muhammad Ba’ayo, head of the Libyan Media Corporation and a prominent Qadhafi-era media official, was detained in October 2020 after he spoke out forcefully against Islamic groups and the armed forces competing for control of Tripoli, including on Facebook. Ba’ayo was reportedly detained by GNA-aligned militias, and whether he was still detained as of the end of the coverage period was unclear.113 In April 2020, activist Majdi al-Khashmi was arrested by militias loyal to Khalifa Haftar likely due to opinions he shared on social media. As of June 2022, his whereabouts were unclear.114

In June 2020, LAAF forces kidnapped a member of the National Peace Initiative, prominent activist Khaled al-Sakran, from his home in Benghazi (see C7), and he was likely still detained as of June 2022. Al-Sakran, a vocal peace and anti-war activist online, had been arrested in early 2020 and was kept under surveillance after his release.115 116

In early 2020, two members of the National Peace Initiative were arrested by the Military Intelligence Service in Benghazi. Fahd al-Bakoush and Muhammad bin Zablah were arrested at the public prosecutor’s office after they had gone there to file a complaint about continued harassment they had experienced since starting the initiative. Before their arrests, the National Peace Initiative had posted a statement rejecting weaponized violence in the country. As of June 2022, whether al-Bakoush and bin Zablah had been released from detention was unclear.117

In December 2019, Reda Fahil al-Bom, a prominent Libyan journalist and founder of the Libyan Organization for Independent Media, was detained by intelligence agents. The Libyan Organization for Independent Media works to document rights violations faced by Libyan journalists and advocates for independent news media as a means to combat violence online. The reason for the detention was unclear, and the Ministry of the Interior denied playing any role in the arrest.118 Libya’s intelligence body issued a statement arguing that the arrest met “all legal standards and was coordinated with the country’s public prosecutor.”119

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3 / 4

There generally are no onerous registration requirements or restrictions on anonymous communications in Libya.

The October 2021 Cybercrime Law also includes provisions that criminalize the use of encryption tools, threatening online privacy (see C2 and C5). Specifically, Article 9 states that “no individual or entity shall produce, possess, provide, market, manufacture, import, or export encryption tools” without gaining authorization from authorities.120 Those found using these tools against the government, banks, the military, or security institutions could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($21,600).121

In 2017, mobile service provider Libyana deactivated foreign subscribers’ cell phones, reportedly over concerns that people were using the company’s mobile services to commit crimes and organize radical groups by opening subscriptions registered to migrants passing through the country. Libyana said it would allow foreign residents to reactivate their SIM cards if they were able to produce a valid visa and passport.122 Al-Madar, the other mobile operator in the country, took similar action.

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2 / 6

The surveillance capabilities and activities of domestic intelligence agencies are unclear, as is the LPTIC’s involvement in any such activity.123 There are concerns that powerful surveillance tools left over from the Qadhafi era may have been reactivated. Given the lack of an independent judiciary or procedures outlining the circumstances under which the state may conduct surveillance, there is little to prevent the government, security agencies, or militias who have access to the equipment from abusing its capabilities.

The Cybercrime Law approved during the coverage period grants authorities power to monitor online content, although how this will play out in practice is unclear.124 In the past, officials have warned social media activists that their activity was being monitored and have suggested that they could be arrested for disturbing national security.125

The Qadhafi regime had direct access to the country’s domain name system (DNS) servers and engaged in widespread surveillance of online communications. Sophisticated equipment from foreign firms such as the French company Amesys,126 and possibly the Chinese firm ZTE, were sold to the regime, enabling intelligence agencies to intercept communications on a nationwide scale and collect massive amounts of data on both phone and internet usage. Correspondents from the Wall Street Journal who visited an internet monitoring center after the regime’s collapse reportedly found a storage room lined floor-to-ceiling with dossiers of the online activities of Libyans and foreigners with whom they communicated.127

In a 2018 report by Citizen Lab, a Canadian internet watchdog, Libya is listed as one of 45 countries worldwide in which devices were likely breached by Pegasus, a targeted spyware software developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. Pegasus is known to be used by governments to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, and the opposition, though whether the Libyan government is a Pegasus client is unclear.128

C6 0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3 / 6

Because state authorities own all of Libya’s mobile phone operators (see A4), presumably it would be relatively easy for the authorities to obtain user information. At the same time, militias have exerted less pressure on ISPs to conduct surveillance than Qhadafi-era security forces.129

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 1 / 5

The breakdown of the rule of law and the growing influence of militias have resulted in a worrying uptick in politically motivated threats and violence against journalists and activists since 2011. Human rights defenders, activists, social media users, and bloggers have been physically attacked, detained, threatened, harassed, and forcibly disappeared by armed groups, some of whom are affiliated with the state authorities. No legal authority is capable holding perpetrators accountable. Many journalists continue to leave Libya rather than risk their lives by reporting within its borders.130

At least one internet user was killed during the coverage period in retaliation for their online content. In March 2022, Altayeb Elshariri, who worked for the ISA, was killed in Misurata by a Joint Operations Force (JOF) gunman. The JOF is a militia affiliated with Prime Minister Dbeibah. According to reports, Elshariri was killed because he published a video online criticizing the militia a few days before his death.131

In November 2020, Hanan al-Barassi, a prominent Libyan lawyer and women's rights activist, was killed by members of an armed group in Benghazi, which was then controlled by the LAAF. Al-Barassi was killed just a day after she shared comments on social media criticizing Haftar’s son and other LAAF figures.132

Journalists have endured intimidation, threats, and physical attacks due to their reporting. In February 2022, journalist Mabrouka al-Mismari was attacked by armed men in Benghazi, under the control of the General Command of the Libyan Army, while reporting. The attack on al-Mismari is believed to be in retaliation to her criticizing conservative traditions in Libya.133

Prominent activists, journalists, and bloggers have been kidnapped by state and nonstate actors due to their online activity. In June 2021, Mansour Atti—a prominent human rights defender, journalist, and blogger—was kidnapped in the city of Ajdabiya. In August, the LAAF confirmed that Atti was detained in a LAAF-controlled prison (see C3).134 Before the kidnapping, Atti had been raising awareness about the upcoming December 2021 elections on social media.135 In June 2020, LAAF forces kidnapped prominent activist Khaled al-Sakran from his home in Benghazi. Rights groups believe he was forcibly arrested and has been held in detention ever since (see C3).136

Online journalists and human rights defenders operate in an extremely violent environment, one that is particularly dangerous for women’s and LGBT+ rights activists. A March 2021 report by Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a human rights organization, documents the scale of the online harassment, stalking, doxing, and other online violence that women in Libya experience, which has led to women stating they have experienced intimidation and censorship.137 Rights groups believe that individuals arrested for their online content experience torture in detention or prison.138

Various actors have harnessed the power of social media to target or smear people, organizations, and events that they do not approve of or agree with—a particularly worrying form of online bullying that can have far-reaching consequences in a country without laws or security. In a severe example of such behavior, in 2014 anonymous users set up a Facebook page featuring the names, photos, and addresses of Benghazi activists, and calling for their assassination and kidnapping. The page was taken down after online activists reported it.139 Facebook is still used by various armed groups to monitor and identify dissenters, some of whom are ultimately arrested, killed, or driven to flee.140

LGBT+ people consistently exposed to harassment and violence online, including by local authorities.141

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 2 / 3

While cyberattacks are not common, several Libyan entities and individuals have been targeted by cyberattacks including malware and phishing in recent years. Many of the attacks exploited a network vulnerability within a Microsoft protocol.142 Weak services, such as file transfer and remote-desktop protocols, also create openings for cyberattacks.143

Ahead of presidential elections planned for December 2021, which were ultimately postponed, the electoral administration body reported that its Facebook page had been hacked after a post appeared on the page saying that presidential candidate Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had been disqualified.144 Who was behind the hacking is unclear.

Hackings and cyberattacks have been used by the warring parties in Libya’s conflict to further their agendas. For example, in August 2019 the GNA Twitter account was hacked by an unknown source and a false statement was posted declaring the defeat of the GNA to the LAAF. Additionally, LAAF documents and personal identification information were leaked after a hacking attack.145