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Rights group urges abolition of restrictive NGO law in Libya

Last Updated Jun 4, 2021 at 4:47 am PDT

CAIRO (AP) — A leading rights group urged Libya’s transitional authorities on Friday to revoke or amend legislation that imposes sweeping restrictions on civil society ahead of general elections in December.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning a 2019 decree that includes “burdensome registration requirements and stringent regulations on funding” of non-governmental organizations in the North African country.

A Libyan government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

“This decree unjustifiably restricts and muzzles civic organizations working in Libya and is particularly worrisome in view of the need for a robust civil society ahead of planned elections in December,” Hanan Salah, Libya director at HRW said in the statement. “Libyan authorities should urgently come up with regulations that accord with Libya’s obligation to protect freedom of association.”

The decree put a government agency known as the Commission on Civil Society in charge of authorizing new organizations, and controlling their funding and activities. It also allows the agency to revoke their licenses based on a set of vague violations.

Libyans still live under an labyrinth of oppressive laws that date back to the era longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was topped and killed following a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. The legislation continues “to instill fear and seriously impede freedom of association,” HRW added. FOr example, Libyans may face the death penalty if they are condemned of establishing “unlawful” associations — a crime that the penal code fails to define.

Oil-rich Libya has experienced years of conflict and chaos since Gadhafi’s fall. Until October, it had been split between a U.N.-supported government in Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. But then the U.N. brokered a ceasefire that stopped most of the violence and stipulated that all foreign mercenaries should leave. Under the U.N-sponsored roadmap, an interim government was elected in February and entrusted with leading the nation into general elections in December 2021.

The newly-elected Government of National Unity has received the blessing of the United States and European countries, who have voiced optimism that Libya might be finally on the path to stability and democracy.

Noha Elhennawy, The Associated Press