Libya | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Libya

Libya

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

94

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

36

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

29

Libya’s press remains one of the most tightly controlled in the world. Despite continued efforts on the part of the regime to depict the country as a changed nation, little progress has been made in advancing political rights or civil liberties. Libyan law provides for freedom of speech and of the press within the confines of “the principles of the Revolution.” The government severely limits the rights of the media in practice, and journalists who violate the harsh press codes can be imprisoned or sentenced to death. The press avoids publishing any material that could be deemed offensive or threatening, particularly to Islam, national security, territorial integrity, or Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi, the country’s leader. Those who criticize the government from outside the country, such as in foreign publications or internet websites, may be arrested upon entering Libya. A vast network of secret police and informers works to ensure that state critics are known to the regime.

A well-known writer and critic of the Libyan government, Jamal al-Haji, was arrested on February 16 along with 11 other men who were planning a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Tripoli, to commemorate a February 2006 clash between police and protesters in which 11 people were killed. According to Human Rights Watch, the 12 men were accused of planning to overthrow the government, arms possession, and meeting with an official from a foreign government. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. Although al-Haji is a Danish citizen, Libyan officials have refused to allow visits by Danish envoys. Human Rights Watch reported that a few days before his arrest, al-Haji wrote an article that called for “freedom, democracy, a constitutional state, and law.” Separately, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three suspects were sentenced to death in July for the 2005 murder of journalist Daif al-Ghazal al-Shuhaibi. Al-Ghazal had worked for the state-owned daily Azahf al-Akhdar and had contributed to London-based websites focused on Libya. In the months leading up to his death, al-Ghazal had published online articles that were critical of the government. Little information was released on the trial of the three suspects, prompting concerns about the sincerity and veracity of the process.

As Libya has moved to present a more business-friendly face to the outside world, there has been some mild criticism of certain government policies, but this is carefully managed from the top and does not represent spontaneous or sincere opposition. Journalists practice a high degree of self-censorship in all reporting. The General Press Institute, a branch of the Information Ministry, owns three of the four major Libyan newspapers, and the fourth is owned by the Movement of Revolutionary Committees, a state-supported ideological organization. Broadcast media are also controlled by the government and reflect official positions. For the first time under al-Qadhafi’s rule, ostensibly private media were permitted to operate in 2007. A subsidiary of the Qadhafi Development Foundation, the 1/9 Media Group, launched a satellite television station, Al-Libiya; a radio station; and two daily newspapers, Oea and Cyrene. No foreign publications are available, and although satellite television is easily accessible, popular pan-Arab satellite television stations such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya do not have local correspondents covering Libya. The internet also serves as an alternate source of news, but internet penetration remains relatively low; only about 4 percent of the population used the medium in 2007. Access is furnished by a single government-owned service provider. Despite occasional government blocks on political opposition sites, Libyans based outside the country use the internet to criticize the authorities. There have been several cases over the past few years in which the government has harassed or imprisoned Libyans who attacked it from Europe-based websites.