22 April 2013

Libya: Journalist Freed On Bail but Still Faces Criminal Defamation Trial

press release

Reporters Without Borders is relieved by journalist Amara Hassan Al-Khitabi's release on bail yesterday after four months in detention but is disturbed that he is still charged with defaming and insulting the judicial system and has been banned from leaving Libya before the end of his trial.

The editor of the newspaper Al-Umma, Khitabi, was arrested last December and incarcerated in Hadba prison in connection with the list of 87 judges and prosecutors allegedly implicated in corruption and embezzlement that he had published the previous month.

He is facing a possible sentence of three to 15 years in prison under article 195 of the criminal code, which dates back to before the February 2011 revolution. The next hearing has been set for 23 June.

He was released by a special court formed by members of the Tripoli appeal court and headed by judge Ali Zwai. The special court was formed after criminal court judge Ahmed Birbash's impartiality was challenged, leading to his resignation.

Khitabi's lawyer is planning to ask the supreme court to examine the "constitutionality" of article 195. He has also requested the return of Khitabi's passport so that he can seek medical treatment abroad.

His health deteriorated sharply during his months in prison and was made worse by the hunger strike he began on 28 February. He has hypertension, diabetes and a prostate condition and was unable to attend the last hearing on 15 April because he was in Tripoli's Sharie Zawiya Hospital.

Reporters Without Borders points out that the media have a key role to play in ensuring transparency and combatting corruption, a role that is essential in any democratic society.

The organization again urges the Libyan authorities to decriminalize defamation in line with international standards on human rights and, in particular, freedom of expression and media freedom.

Read the most recent Reporters Without Borders release on Amara Hassan Al-Khitabi

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