Libya is jailing people for their political views, years after committing to reform, Human Rights Watch said in a report released.
The New York-based group said in a news conference there had been limited improvements but Libya’s human rights record remained out of step with the image of change it had presented since leader Muammar Gaddafi brought the country out of international isolation.
“Over the past decade, Libya dramatically transformed its international status from a pariah state,” said the report, entitled Truth and Justice Can’t Wait.
“Yet an essentially repressive legal framework remains in place, as does the ability of government security forces to act with impunity against dissent.”
Commenting on the report, Mohamed Al Haki, president of a human rights association which belongs to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam told Reuters: “There is no big difference between our report and HRW’s report, but we do prefer that these kinds of issues are discussed by Libya’s civic society.”
HRW noted the contribution of Saif al-Islam’s group in pushing through some changes. He is the country’s second most powerful figure and a leading voice for reform.
But it said more reform was needed, and faster. The report, compiled from interviews with prisoners and their families, lawyers and Libyan officials, highlighted the following areas of concern:
* The authorities have not published a thorough account of June 1996 killings at Abu Salim prison, in which over 1000 prisoners were shot. The results of an investigation promised by the authorities have never been made public and those responsible have not been identified, HRW said.
* The report said Libyan law severely curtailed free speech. However, journalists were now able to criticise some sections of the government, though not Gaddafi.
* Hundreds of people are kept in prison even though they have finished their sentences or been acquitted by the courts, the report said, adding they were being held in two prisons run by the Internal Security Agency and inmates included dissidents imprisoned after unfair trials.
* Political parties are illegal and there are no independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to HRW. A group of lawyers and journalists who tried to set up NGOs gave up after one of the lawyers was abducted, the report said.
HRW launched the report at a news conference on Saturday in the Libyan capital, a first in a country that has allowed only limited access to outsiders scrutinising its rights record.
Libya was for decades under international sanctions over its banned weapons programmes and support for militant groups. It has renounced those policies and is being courted by foreign governments and investors.
Energy firms including BP, ExxonMobil and ENI have invested billions of dollars in Libya, home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.