Tripoli, 4 December:
Libyan and Arab human rights groups have called on the General National Congress to review and clarify elements of . . .[restrict]Law 6,5 dealing with the right to peaceful protest.
The seven organisations, including Lawyers for Justice in Libya, have warned that if criminal sanction,s included in Article 10 of the law remain in place, it will frighten people from exercising their basic right to demonstrate.
“Freedom of assembly is not a privilege granted by the state that is only legitimate if approved by the authorities” said the human rights groups in a joint statement, “but rather a fundamental right of citizens that must be protected by the government.”
While the human rights activists welcomed the explicit ban on weapons at demonstrations, they cautioned that the authorities should only use proportionate force, if they absolutely have to contain or break up an assembly.
They also expressed concern at the vague wording of articles 2 and 3 of the legislation. This warns that demonstrations could be banned, if they disrupt the functioning of public utilities. However this provision does not spell out what that disruption might be, save the blocking of traffic. The human rights activists argued that this wording is not sufficiently clear and added that it is the responsibility of the authorities to find alternative routes for traffic and to provide for public safely, while also guaranteeing the fundamental right of assembly.
There are similar concerns over Article 7, which has, in their opinion, a catch-all justification of “security” as grounds to forbid a demonstration. The activists argued in their statement: “All decisions to ban protests should require judicial review, as a safeguard against the abuse of such justifications. Moreover, the law should include language stipulating that prohibiting protests should only be proposed, where necessary and proportionate, and as a measure of last resort where there is a serious threat of unlawful acts or crimes.”
The activists want to see incorporated into the law a provision for judicial review, if a protest is banned, which could challenge the decision of the authorities.
The human rights’ activists concerns extend to the probability that under Article 8 of the existing legislation, demonstrators could be forced to disperse, because of minor infringements of the conditions under which the protest was originally permitted. If individuals in a crowd step out of line, the authorities should remove those people, without dispersing the demonstration as a whole.
The activists also took issue with Article 4 which stipulates that a committee of organisers be responsible for the behaviour of demonstrators. They protested that, according to UN norms, it is the state, not the organisers, who bear primary responsibility for public order and taking care of the safety of both demonstrators and non-protestors alike. Those who set up demonstrations should not be held accountable for the actions of individuals among protestors.
Issue was also taken with parts of Articles 5 and 6, which among other things stipulate that 48 hours notice should be given in advance of any protest gathering. While noting that two days is comparatively better than in other countries, and also that the GNC plumped for a system of notification, rather than authorisation, the activists believed that the authorities must be sympathetic in any adjustments they might seek. Demonstration should be within sight and sound of the object of the protest. Equally spontaneous demonstrations should not be banned. Rather the authorities should protect and facilitate them, as long as they remained peaceful.
Along with Lawyers for Justice in Libya, the call for the GNC to rethink Law 65, is backed by the New Libya Foundation, the Rashad Foundation, the Eugrtin Organisation for Amazighi Culture and Development, the Qafza Organisation and the Kufra Youth Forum, all from Libya and Egypt’s Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.