(Tripoli) – Libyan judicial authorities should immediately drop all criminal charges that violate freedom of speech over election poster cartoons against two Libyan National Party officials. Under the laws being applied in this case, the men could face the death penalty over posters their party displayed during the 2012 election campaign for the General National Congress.
Authorities charged Ali Tekbali, who, as the party’s policy manager, is responsible for election campaigns; and Fathi Sager, the secretary general, under four sections of the penal code, two of which could carry the death penalty. The charges include insulting Islam and “instigating division.” Human Rights Watch attended the second session of the trial, on June 16, 2013, in Tripoli.
“Why should people have to worry in the new Libya that they could face the death penalty over what someone else sees as disrespectful of religion,” said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should be abolishing draconian legislation, not using it as a tool to cut off free speech.”
The Libyan National Party is one of eight political parties represented in parliament.
The party printed allegedly offensive posters and pasted them in public spaces in Tripoli, in June 2012. The posters had drawings relating to social issues, including women’s role in society.
The posters depict several characters, including an older bearded man with a turban and protruding nose. The prosecution claims that one character in the drawings bears a resemblance to a controversial cartoon in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that depicted the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoon appeared several times between 2011 and 2012, leading to protests in several countries.
Security officials raided the party headquarters in Tripoli on November 30, 2012, four months after the election. The raid was led by Abdelrahman El-Qreirah, member of the 12th security support division (siriyat al-isnad al-amni) of the Supreme Security Committee, which is nominally under the Interior Ministry.
The defendants told Human Rights Watch the officials removed material related to the election campaign and sealed the office by order of the general prosecutor.
The men are charged under article 203 for “instigating division,” article 207 for an insult to Islam and the prophet, article 291 for insult to religion for “publishing satirical drawings in public spaces,” and article 318 for “publicly instigating hate” and “harming national security.” Articles 203 and 207 are among at least 30 articles of Libya’s penal code that can carry the death penalty.
The prosecution also invoked article 76, which states that “