The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it is deeply concerned by the deepening crackdown on civil society in Libya, where arbitrary arrests and a campaign of social media vilification are having a seriously chilling effect on human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, and other civil society actors.
Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the OHCHR, told a media briefing on Friday (Mar. 25) in Geneva that members of the Internal Security Agency and state-affiliated armed groups have arbitrarily detained human rights defenders and civil society actors, under the pretence of protecting “Libyan and Islamic values”.
She said rights workers have been subjected to torture, verbal harassment and intimidation.
Ms. Throssell recounted that between November and now, OHCHR had learned that seven 19 to 29 year-old men had been arbitrarily arrested and detained by the ISA in the capital, Tripoli.
“The ISA has since posted videos of the seven men on Facebook, in which they seemingly confess to being ‘atheist, a religious, secular and feminist,’ and to using social media to propagate atheism and contempt for religion,” said Ms. Throssell.
She told journalists that OHCHR, has received allegations that the confessions were obtained by coercion, raising serious concerns regarding the use of torture, “which is absolutely prohibited”.
“These confessions also implicate several other men and women, many of whom have now gone into hiding after receiving death threats,” added the spokesperson.
Moreover, the Facebook videos have sparked a wave of hate speech, against human rights defenders.
“In fact, a list of activists has been circulating on social media with calls to prosecute those on it, as apostates under Sharia law and sentence them to death if found guilty,” she said.
Meanwhile on 13 March, the Tanweer Movement – a prominent social campaign for gender equality and social and cultural rights – was dissolved its board of directors have fled overseas fearing for their safety, Ms. Throssell said.
And other civil society groups, including the Libyan Rational Dialogue, and Al-Baraka, are being targeted with online hate speech and threats.
“We call on the Libyan authorities to immediately stop this aggressive campaign against Libyans exercising and defending their human rights, and to immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained, while also ensuring the protection of those named in coerced ‘confessions’,” said the UN official.
She underscored that the Libyan authorities should also launch prompt and effective investigations into the alleged human rights violations, including allegations of torture.
Furthermore, she continued, they should hold all alleged perpetrators to account, including ISA members.
“A safe, open, and democratic space is critical for Libya, and it cannot be built without full respect for freedom of expression and association,” concluded the OHCHR spokesperson. (Source: UN News)