By Sami Zaptia.
Tripoli, 19 January 2013:
Plurality of powers in Libya?
The Prosecutor’s Office last week released a statement through its official spokesperson . . .[restrict]that contained some interesting content with huge relevance for the new post February 17 Libya.
The short statement touched upon the main pillars and fundamentals of democracy – fundamentals that are, in theory at least, at the heart of the causes of and drivers behind the February 17th Revolution and the Arab Spring as a whole.
The fundamentals that the statement touched upon were concerned with pluralism, division of powers, the rule of law, free press and the limitations of free speech.
Firstly, it revealed that Libya’s Supreme Judicial Council had forwarded to the GNC a proposed Bill for some reforms of the Judiciary. Included in this Bill were distinct criteria and definitions of powers between the ultimate legislative authority in Libya, the GNC, and the Judiciary.
The statement went as far as to forewarn against the possibility of the GNC overstepping its powers of being the legislature into usurping powers of the Judiciary regarding the appointment of the Prosecutor General.
This was a clear marker by the Judiciary to send a preemptive message to the GNC about the concept of the plurality and division of powers in the new free, post-dictatorial Libya.
The Judiciary also took up its right as a member of a nascent pluralistic Libyan society to send a proposal of policy specifically concerned with its specialty in the form of a Bill.
Newspaper charged with defamation of judiciary
On another matter, the statement revealed that a local newspaper al Umma (the Nation) was being charged with insulting the judiciary and the defamation of its members and practicing a profession without a trade licence.
The newspaper had listed 87 members of the Judiciary which it had accused of corruption.
It has been years since Libyan has been able to insult any member of the judiciary let alone commit defamation under the previous regime. Under Qaddafi, to insult the judiciary and its decisions would have been to insult Qaddafi himself as the two were one.
It would, of course, be very interesting to know if this defamation case would have been taken to court had it not involved the direct insulting of members of the judiciary?
The case sends a loud signal to society as a whole and to those of us in the media that there are limitations to the freedom of speech and expression – a concept that has not in my opinion fully percolated down to most of those engaging in civil disobedience and strike actions in the new Libya.
You are free to do and say as you like – so long as it does not affect the freedom of others – is the message to the newspaper that dared accuse members of the judiciary of corruption, at a time when it is fashionable to accuse everyone of being corrupt or a supporter of the old regime.
Democracy is not easy. It has many huge restraints and details such as evidence! Whilst many Libyan know, believe or think they know and believe that this or that person is corrupt and or colluded with the old regime – in a rule-of-law based democracy you have to prove it with evidence to the satisfaction of a court of law.
Regarding practicing a trade without a trade licence – if this was referring to the newspaper publishing without a licence, then the Public Prosecutor will hopefully lose this case – if there is justice and Libya is a country of the rule of law.
This is because, on the one hand, Mahmoud Shamam, Information Minister under the Mahmoud Jibril government, as part of his encouragement of the growth of NGOs and democracy, encouraged all media to operate without any need for any official licencing.
Secondly there is not really a law today that is formulated specifically for a free and independent media. Most publications are either NGOs or operating as a media services company offering advertising design services, or operating under the wings of another separate legal entity.
Taking alleged thuwar (militias) to court?
On the case of the kidnapping of the Juma Gamati, founder of the Tagheer (change) political party, the Prosecutor’s spokesperson revealed that they have referred the accused to Tripoli Criminal Court for a hearing and are circulating copies of the details of the rest of those wanted in order to help track them down.
This case, if it goes through would be unprecedented in that it would probably be an early case of alleged – and the stress is on alleged here – thuwar, or armed militias, who had detained Mr Gamaty against his will, all be it briefly , for daring to name and criticize them in public.
But, not everyone that wears army fatigues or claims to have been a former freedom fighter was a former freedom fighter. This fact remains to be established.
Either way it sends a message that if you stand up for your rights and speak out for freedom, democracy, freedoms of speech and expression, as Mr Gamaty did in a neutral state – you will get your day in court.
It also sends a message that the judiciary is keen to prove its independence in the new Libya and will not be intimidated by armed militias from upholding the rights of individuals.
Libya wants to be a civil society ruled by concepts and principles such as democracy, elections, legitimate representative government and the separation of powers – and not by the use of arms or by armed groups.
The state is fighting drugs not distributing drugs
The spokesperson also informed in his statement that the Chief Prosecutor for the city of Khoms was investigating the capture of two imported cars on board a ship at its port loaded with large quantities of narcotic pills.
Libyans will hope that in the new Libya the state will truly fight crime and drugs and not be party to it drugs activities, controlling it for its own purposes at the expense of the general public.
The previous regime allegedly distributed drugs during the Revolution to attract crowds to its pre-orchestrated public demonstrations of support.
Without being totally politically naïve, we hope that in the new Libya the lines between good and evil are clearer and the state truly puts its efforts in fighting crime and drugs – in the interest of the general public.
The well known English proverb says that one swallow does not make a summer. A couple of court cases here and there and a couple of drugs busts here and there – do not in themselves make a democratic state nor a fully pluralistic society.
But a start has to be made sometime and somewhere, and this is as good a time and place as any. The long march for democracy, to mix metaphors, has to start with small steps. And one can argue that Libyan society and its officially representative and legitimate state are beginning to take baby steps in the right direction.