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Press under threat on anniversary of Libyan revolution

New York, February 19, 2014--A recent wave of anti-press violations, including repressive legislation, abductions, and physical attacks, threatens to set back the steps Libya has taken toward democracy since the revolution that removed the late Muammar Qaddafi from power, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

On February 5, the General National Congress (GNC) amended the Qaddafi-era penal code that stipulated a prison term of up to 15 years for any individual who insulted the government or the revolution that brought Qaddafi to power, according to news reports. Article 195 of the amended penal code now forbids insulting the February 17, 2011, revolution that ousted Qaddafi.

The amendment comes shortly after the GNC adopted Decree 05/2014, which allows authorities to censor broadcasts of any TV station that criticizes the February 17 revolution, undermines security, or promotes discord between Libyans.  

Authorities had already applied the Qaddafi-era law to at least one critical journalist. In September, Al-Ummah editor Amara al-Khatabi was charged under Article 195 with insulting the judiciary in a story that claimed judges had accepted bribes. He was released on bail and sought medical treatment in Jordan in September.

"The government has moved to create a legal framework to stifle dissent, even as journalists are in increasing danger of physical attack," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. "On the week commemorating the third anniversary of the revolution that ousted Muammar Qaddafi, we call on all Libyans to work together to protect press freedom, a cornerstone of democracy."

At least six journalists have been abducted since January, with two of them still missing, according to news reports.

Younis Ali Younis, a journalist for the state news agency LANA, was abducted for a day in Tripoli on February 10 and interrogated about his reporting, The Associated Press reported. Younis told the AP he did not know who abducted him but that the men wore military uniforms.

Three journalists from the local TV station Fezzan--Adel al-Sherif, Abdullah Abu Azba, and Zeidan al-Mehdi--were also abducted for a day by armed men near Sabha in mid-January, according to news reports. The journalists had been covering clashes near a military base outside the city. Fezzan TV covers local and regional news.

At least two journalists from state TV network Libya Al-Wataniya were abducted on a trip to the capital on February 9, LANA reported citing the station. The station told LANA that its journalists, Saddam Hassan al-Rashidi and Ibrahim Abdul Qader al-Ridha, were kidnapped, along with three other individuals, while on their way to Tripoli. It is unclear if the journalists were on assignment. They are all still missing.  

"We call on the government to investigate the disappearance of Saddam Hassan al-Rashidi, Ibrahim Abdul Qader al-Ridha, and their companions and to ensure their kidnappers are held responsible," CPJ's Mansour said.

News reports said there have been at least three militant attacks against private TV stations in February. Armed men attacked the building of Al-Asema TV with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades twice in the past week. CNN reported that Al-Asema is affiliated with the country's former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. Earlier in February, armed men stormed the offices of Libya Al-Ahrar TV in Benghazi. Both stations have reported critically on Islamist groups and militias, according to reports. None of the attacks led to any casualties.

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