15 May 2018

Libya: Decree Gives Blank Cheque to Militiamen Who Persecute Journalists

press release

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate withdrawal of a decree by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli that would turn a militia guilty of abuses against journalists into an anti-crime unit with very broad surveillance powers.

Article 13 of Decree No. 555, issued on 7 May, dissolves "Al Radaa" - a militia responsible for kidnapping, detaining and torturing many journalists and ransacking Annabaa TV's headquarters twice - but enrols its members into a new anti-crime and anti-terrorist unit and says the unit will have the same name as the militia.

Article 4 of the decree gives the new unit broad powers in the use of technical surveillance resources that would enable it to intercept all "information liable to compromise the country's safety, social peace or national security," both information "on social networks and via traditional means of communication."

"Giving broad surveillance powers to former militiamen who were guilty of abuses in the past against civilians and journalists is very disturbing, and all the more so in the current political context in Libya, in which state authority has been disintegrating," RSF said.

"Decree No. 555 is a blank cheque to warlords, who will now be legally able to spy on communications between members of the public and journalists without any legal safeguards. We all on Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's government to withdraw this decree and to enact laws that safeguard the protection of privacy and personal information."

Surveillance and interception equipment has been sold to Libyan militias including Al Radaa since August 2014. In a June 2017 report on Libya, UN experts warned about the use of this equipment against civilians and said that, according to the information they had gathered, it had already been used in abductions.

Based in northeastern Tripoli, Al Radaa consists of around 1,500 fighters led by the Salafist warlord Abderraouf Kara. One of the capital's most powerful militias, it openly supports the Sarraj government.

According to several witnesses, former journalists Suleiman Qashout and Ahmed Yaacoubi were kidnapped by Al Radaa members on 6 May. Their families have had no news of them since then. Qashout and Yaacoubi are nowadays organizers of the Septimus Award, which has been given to Libyan media outlets, journalists and performers annually.

Libya is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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