U.N. human rights officials warn a deepening crackdown on civil society in Libya is creating a chilling effect on human rights defenders and other activists, who are subject to arbitrary arrests and other forms of government intimidation.
Human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says the trend of a shrinking civic space in Libya has been going on for many months. She notes it reached an apex in the run-up to planned presidential elections last December 24.
She says election-related hate speech and smear campaigns attacking the freedom of expression in Libya were at an all-time high during that period.
The U.N.-sponsored election was meant to end a decade of conflict. It was subsequently delayed because of bitter arguments about divisive candidates. However, Throssell notes the hate speech campaigns have not stopped.
“We noted that there are attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, civil society actors and members of social movements, as I said. And these attacks appear aimed to silence movements, such as youth movements, social, cultural, peaceful movements. So, it is a broader concern,” she said.
Throssell says members of the Internal Security Agency and state-affiliated armed groups have arbitrarily detained, tortured, and intimidated human rights and civic activists. That was justified under the pretense of protecting so-called Libyan and Islamic values.
She says videos were posted of seven young men arbitrarily arrested between November and March in the capital, Tripoli. They were seen seemingly confessing to being “atheist, areligious, secular, and feminist.”
“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,” she said.
Throssell says the Facebook videos have sparked a wave of hate speech against human rights defenders. She says there have been calls to prosecute activists as apostates under Sharia law and for death sentences. She says some campaigners for gender equality and social and cultural rights have fled overseas fearing for their safety.
The human rights office is calling on Libyan authorities to stop the aggressive campaign against Libyans defending their human rights and to release those arbitrarily detained. It says perpetrators of alleged torture and other violations should be prosecuted, including members of the Internal Security Agency.