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Libya high court to review controversial speech law

The Supreme Court of Libya on Sunday agreed to rule on a controversial law [Law 37, PDF, in Arabic] that criminalizes and punishes speech and propaganda endangering the security of the state or glorifying former leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. The law prohibits speech and other expression that would interfere with "military efforts to defend the country, terrorizes people, or weakens the morale of citizens" and allows for charges for "insults [to] Islam, or the prestige of the state or its institutions or judiciary, and every person who publicly insults the Libyan people, slogan or flag." Saleh al-Marghani, the lawyer challenging the law, argued that Law 37, passed last month by the country's National Transitional Council (NTC) [official website, in Arabic], violates the right to freedom of speech. The law faced harsh criticism by civil rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website; JURIST report] at time of its initial introduction because of its intrusive nature and excessive censorship. Elham Saudi, director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya [advocacy website], stressed the fact that this case is the first opportunity for the judiciary to review NTC's law since the creation of the NTC and expressed in a press statement [text]:

This marks a unique opportunity for the judiciary in Libya to assert its independence and act in its capacity as a monitor of the powers of the lawmakers in the country. This is an opportunity for the judiciary to state clearly to all Libyans and to the world at large that the new Libya will be one where the rule of law is upheld, the separation of power is enforced and Libyans' rights and freedoms are protected.
Seventeen Supreme Court judges will hear the case in public hearings, and al-Marghani needs nine judges to rule in favor of the appeal to stop the law from going in effect. The law will be analyzed under the NTC's Constitutional Declaration [text, PDF] of 2011.

Libya is still attempting to recover from the effects of its months-long conflict [JURIST backgrounder] and the fall of Gaddafi's regime. While the country is in the process of bringing the parties responsible to justice, it is still facing criticism for numerous human rights violations. Last week the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] postponed [JURIST report] the transfer of Gaddafi's son, Safi al-Islam Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], to the ICC's jurisdiction after the Libyan government challenged the admissibility of the case in the ICC. On the same day, the Libyan government began its prosecutions [JURIST report] of various senior officials who had served Gaddafi. Among them is Libya's ex-intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who faces charges [JURIST report] of illegally entering the country of Mauritania. In addition to these proceedings, the NTC has faced criticism for enacting laws that opponents claim are not based on the rule of law, such as a law passed [JURIST report] in May that allows police to detain people who are considered "threats to security" for up to two months. In March, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Libya to investigate into the alleged human rights violations committed during the Libya conflict.

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