Libya’s cybercrime law: A threat to freedom of expression and legalization of censorship

Read in Arabic / للقراءة بالعربية

Access Now and a coalition of civil society organizations call on the Libyan authorities to immediately rescind the new cybercrime law adopted by the Libyan House of Representatives on October 26, 2021.

The new bill, which was leaked on social media by a number of MPs and experts, will significantly limit freedom of expression online and grant Libyan authorities the liberty to target and suppress human rights activists and defenders, and restrict press freedom. The cybercrime law will also hand Libyan authorities the power to monitor and censor content published on social media “and any other technical platform”, and to block websites without judicial orders.

“The new cybercrime law is repressive and constitutes a real danger to fundamental rights and freedoms in Libya”, said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “Cybercrime cannot be combated by muzzling, blocking, and surveilling speech online based on broad and ambiguous definitions. We call on the Libyan authorities to rescind this law.”

Libya’s cybercrime law was quickly voted on in October, and was adopted only one day after being put on the table. There was no consultation with Libyan or international civil society. A number of articles criminalize content and actions under overbroad and ambiguous terms such as “public order” and “public morality” which grant the judicial branch disproportionate power to limit freedom of expression and opinion online.

“The threat to online freedom of expression and publication cannot be accepted under the guise of combating cybercrime”, said Chérif El Kadhi, MENA Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The Libyan parliament must rescind such repressive measures that undermine the rights of people in Libya to freely express their opinions online with no fear of censorship”.

Access Now and the signatory organizations call on Libyan authorities to:

  • Immediately rescind the cybercrime law;
  • Draft a new law in line with international human rights standards and Libya’s international commitments; and
  • Adopt the principle of dialogue and engagement with the Libyan civil society and international organizations when drafting bills related to fundamental rights and freedoms in Libya.

The law was adopted a few months before the Presidential Elections, scheduled to be held on December 24, 2021. Freedom of opinion, expression, and of the press, both online and offline, must be guaranteed to ensure that elections are free, fair, and transparent.

These drastic changes in Libya are part of a trend sweeping the MENA region, where freedom of expression is undermined in the name of combating cybercrime — including in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Bahrain.

Read the full statement.