By Libya Herald staff.
Tripoli, 21 November 2014:
Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters without Borders and civil liberties groups have vehemently condemned the . . .[restrict]Libyan court decision to sentence Amara Al-Khattabi to five years in prison for defamation. It is being seen as a miscarriage of justice.
The sentencing in Khattabi’s trial took place in August – a time when most courts were not meeting because of the fighting in Tripoli – without his knowledge or presence. He and his lawyer was told that the trial would not be taking place at the time. He was surprised, he stated, when he received notice of his sentence on this week.
The court also ordered Khattabi to pay damages, 250,000 LD, to the five judiciary members who brought the suit against him. Additionally he is banned from practicing journalism while serving his prison time.
His lawyer has said that he will seek a re-trial since neither Khattabi nor his defence team was present at the trial.
Khattabi was arrested and charged with defaming and insulting the judicial system in December 2012 after he published in his paper Al Umma the previous month an article called “The Blacklist of the Judiciary”, a list of 87 judges and prosecutors whom he alleged had been involved in corruption and embezzlement.
The charges were based on Article 195 of the Libyan Penal Code which stipulates that slandering or insulting public officials is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years in jail.
HRW slammed the ruling, arguing that Khattabi should never have faced criminal charges for defamation in the first place and calling it a “serious blow to free speech that should not be allowed to stand”.
“Sending anyone, especially a newspaper editor, to prison for alleged defamation violates freedom of expression and can only have a chilling effect on the media,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East and North Africa director. “At a time when the rule of law in Libya is under huge threat from the actions of unaccountable armed groups, it is striking that prosecutors should give priority to a case like this.”
“While everyone has a right to redress when their reputation has been impugned, the remedies should be limited to civil suits with penalties other than imprisonment,” HRW said.
They also said that the threshold for what qualifies as defamation should be set higher. Furthermore, they said, Libya should, in order to protect free speech, rid itself of laws against insulting officials or public institutions. [/restrict]