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Rights group urges Libya to revoke speech law

Associated Press Modified: May 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm •  Published: May 5, 2012

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Human Rights Watch urged the new government in Libya Saturday to revoke a law that criminalizes glorifying the former dictator Moammar Gadhafi or spreading "propaganda" that insults or endangers the state.

The law issued last week is one in a series of laws the National Transitional Council, Libya's interim rulers, has recently issued to deal with the legacy of Gadhafi. The laws have come under criticism from international and local rights groups for violating freedom of speech or being too vague to enact.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the law passed last week which criminalizes spreading "false" news or "propaganda" that endangers the country's security or terrorizes people. Glorifying Gadhafi and his regime is considered such a crime, the new law says.

If the news leads to damaging the country, the crime is punishable by life in prison.

Human Rights Watch said the law fails to meet Libya's commitment to international human rights. It is also vague on the described offenses.

"This legislation punishes Libyans for what they say, reminiscent of the dictatorship that was just overthrown," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It will restrict free speech, stifle dissent, and undermine the principles on which the Libyan revolution was based."

Salwa Fawzi al-Deghali, the top legal affairs official in the NTC, declined to comment, saying there was no formal complaints from the rights group.

The law also punishes anyone who "offends" the Libyan uprising, which began with protests on Feb. 17, until the capture and killing of Gadhafi last October. In a brief and vague article, the law says it also punishes those who offend Islam, the state's prestige or its institutions, the Libyan people or flag. There are no specifications of what constitutes an offense.

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