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XI. Freedom of Association and Assembly

Freedom of association in Libya is severely curtailed.  Libyan law explicitly bans any group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of the al-Fateh Revolution, and violators of the law can be put to death.  Libya has many organizations and associations, including at least three dealing with human rights, but all have ties of varying degrees with the government.  There is no functioning civil society in the sense of independent organizations that can express views or undertake actions that do not conform to the leadership’s views and goals.

The Libyan government maintains that freedom of association and assembly are not required in a political system based on “popular power.”  As one justice official said: “The right to demonstrate is a right in the traditional sense.  But that implies there are two sides, the rulers and the ruled.  But when we talk about one group, there is no need.”167

The Libyan government’s restrictions on freedom of association violate its commitments under international law.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Libya in 1989, guarantees the right to peaceful association.  According to article 22, “No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The most severe domestic legal restriction is contained in Law 71, described elsewhere in this report, which bans any group activity opposing the ideology of the 1969 revolution that brought al-Qadhafi to power.  Article 3 of the law imposes the death penalty on those who form, join or support such groups.  The Libyan authorities have imprisoned hundreds of people for violating this law, and some have been sentenced to death.168  Likewise, article 206 of the penal code imposes the death penalty on those who call “for the establishment of any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law,” and for those who belong to or support such an organization.

Under Libya’s constitutional laws, only certain types of associations are allowed.  Article 6 of the Great Green Charter for Human Rights says Libyans are free to form “associations, trade unions and leagues in order to defend their professional interests,” but it does not address associations that deal with social or political themes.  According to article 9 of the Law on Enhancing Freedom, “Citizens are free to establish and join trade unions, professional and social federations and leagues and charitable associations in order to protect their interests or achieve the legitimate objectives for which those institutions have been established.”

Human Rights Watch met with members of a number of such associations during its visit to Libya that deal with health care, charity work and other social affairs.  Three organizations, the Libyan Arab Committee for Human Rights, the Libyan Bar Association and the Qadhafi Foundation for Development deal with human rights issues, but mostly within the confines of acceptable debate.  They criticize the government at times, especially the Qadhafi Foundation, which enjoys a high degree of protection due to its director’s familial ties.

Libyan associations and nongovernmental organizations are regulated by Libyan Law 19 of 2003, which amended Law 111 of 1970.  According to the law, the applying organization or association must present its mandate signed by all founders. The law requires a minimum of fifty founders with a registration fee of 50 dinars (roughly 39 U.S. dollars).  If the organization plans to work country-wide, its application goes to the secretariat of the General People’s Congress.  If the proposed work is limited to a governorate, the application goes to the People’s Congress of that governorate.  If the work is international, it goes to the whole General People’s Congress.  There is no right to appeal a decision denying a group’s application.

Some organizations told Human Rights Watch that the law should be changed to facilitate registration.  The secretary general of the Libyan Arab Committee for Human Rights, Salem al-Fiqhy, who is also head of the Tripoli Appeals Court, complained that the law does not oblige the government to respond to applications within a certain time.  “We want a defined time frame for the state to respond to our requests to establish an organization,” he said.  “The previous law, Law 111, had a defined timeframe for requests to establish an organization; now it’s not defined.”  In addition, he said, a court should decide on an application rather than the government, and applicants should have the right to appeal a court’s rejection.  Lastly, the current law requires organizations to file regular reports with the government about their activities and funding, and the authorities are highly suspicions of foreign funding, he said.169

Human Rights Watch received several reports of official interference in the work of professional associations and, in one case, of interference with efforts to form such an association. In June 2005, the head of the official journalists union, Muhammad al-Bussifi, resigned from his post, citing, among other reasons, the government’s refusal to allow an independent journalists organization.170  The Libyan government did not respond to a Human Rights Watch request for more information about al-Bussifi’s request.171

In November 2005, the government reportedly interfered in the work of the official lawyers’ union, raiding the union’s Benghazi office and appointing union leaders against the membership’s will.  In protest, more than one hundred Libyan lawyers tried to meet at the union’s headquarters in Tripoli.  When the authorities denied them entrance, the lawyers held an impromptu meeting outside, issuing a strongly worded statement that criticized the government’s interference in the union’s affairs.172

As published on a Libyan website based abroad, the statement denounced the government’s appointment of union leadership that is “not at all representative of the desires of the Jamahiriya’s lawyers.”173  The statement made four main points: 

  1. The General People’s Congress should pass a law to regulate the legal profession and give lawyers control over their union, particularly the right to “choose [the] secretariat from among the ranks of the members of the general conference.”
  2. The government should implement Libyan constitutional law, in particular article 6 of the Great Green Charter for Human Rights, which gives citizens the right to form unions and other professional associations.  (Article 6 of the charter states: “The members of Jamahiriyan society are free to form associations, trade unions and leagues in order to defend their professional interests.”)
  3. The General People’s Congress should revoke all decisions that restrict the right of union members to choose their union leadership.
  4. The current procedure for choosing the union’s general secretariat is unconstitutional and the lawyers refuse to recognize it.

The lawyers reportedly formed a committee to follow these issues, composed of: Jum`a Atiqa, Muhammad al-`Alam al-Rajihi, al-Siddiq al-Masrati, Mahmud Abu Halala, and Jamal Bin Fayid.

According to a report by Libyans in exile, the government also imposed hand-picked leaders on the official Libyan Writers’ League in November 2004.  The Revolutionary Committees Movement intervened in the league’s election, the report said, by appointing a new chairman and removing those considered “disloyal.”174

The government also restricts freedom of assembly, in violation of article 21 of the ICCPR.175  In particular, peaceful demonstrations or assemblies with themes deemed against the government or government policy are banned.

On June 25-26, 2005, the Libyan political opposition-in-exile held a congress in London.  Meeting for the first time, about 300 opposition members from different organizations called for an end to the al-Qadhafi-led government by peaceful means and the establishment of a “constitutional and democratic state.”176  In contrast, on June 28, hundreds of youths protested against the meeting.  “You are a group of traitors, you are criminals and you are in the service of foreign forces,” they reportedly chanted as they displayed posters of al-Qadhafi.177 The protesters were allowed to conduct the protest without interference in the center of Tripoli.

[167] Human Rights Watch meeting with Libyan justice officials, Tripoli, April 26, 2005.

[168] The Libyan government did not respond to a October 12, 2005 Human Rights Watch query on the number of people convicted for violating Law 71.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with members of the Libyan Arab Committee for Human Rights, Tripoli, May 3, 2005.

[170] Libya al-Youm, June 21, 2005, see, accessed October 6, 2005.

[171] Human Rights Watch memo to the Government of Libya, October 12, 2005.

[172] Libya al-Youm, November 8, 2005.  See, accessed November 20, 2005.

[173] “The General Declaration Issued by the Lawyers of Tripoli, Number 1,” Libya al-Youm, November 8, 2005.  See, accessed November 20, 2005.

[174] Libya Human and Political Development Forum, “2004 Libya Human Development Report,” November 2, 2005.  Available at, as of December 15, 2005.

[175] Article 21 of the ICCPR, states: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

[176] Statement of the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, London, June 26, 2005.   Available in English at, accessed October 12, 2005.

[177] “Hundreds Protest in Tripoli Over Libyan Opposition-in-exile Meeting,” Agence France-Presse, June 28, 2005.

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