Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Saturday, 12 December 2009

Libya sees 'limited improvements' in human rights

Libyans stand by a statue commemorating a demonstration led by Muammar Gaddafi held in 1961
Libyan security forces still act with impunity against dissent, HRW says

There have been limited improvements in Libya's human rights record, including greater freedom of expression, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said.

The group said abuses by security agencies were still the norm, but the fact that it was able to present its report in Tripoli showed the progress.

This indicated some in the government were open to listening to criticism of its human rights record, it added.

On Monday, a prominent critic and former political prisoner was arrested.

Jamal al-Haggi had criticised the continued detention of political prisoners and denounced government abuses in a BBC interview in September.

Mr Haggi had only been freed following Western pressure earlier this year after serving two years of a 12-year sentence for organising a demonstration.

Prison massacre

Ahead of the report's publication on Saturday, Human Rights Watch's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, noted that a "public assessment of Libya's human rights record in Tripoli would have been unthinkable a few years ago and reflects the expanded space for public discussion".

An essentially repressive legal framework remains in place, as does the ability of government security forces to act with impunity against dissent
Human Rights Watch

"The government should revise its penal code to allow all Libyans the freedom to have such public discussion without fear of criminal sanction and stop jailing those who express criticism of the government, including Jamal al-Haggi," she added.

HRW's report said the improvements in Libya's human rights record remained out of step with the image of change it had presented since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi brought the country out of international isolation by ending its development of weapons of mass destruction and support for militants.

"Over the past decade, Libya dramatically transformed its international status from a pariah state," it said.

"Yet... an essentially repressive legal framework remains in place, as does the ability of government security forces to act with impunity against dissent."

The report said the authorities had not yet published a thorough account of the June 1996 massacre at the Abu Salim prison, where more than 1,000 prisoners were shot dead. Those responsible have never been identified.

Hundreds of people were still being kept in two prisons run by the Internal Security Agency even though they had finished their sentences or had been acquitted by courts, including many dissidents, it added.

HRW also said political parties continued to be illegal and that there were no independent non-governmental organisations. However, though Libyan law still curtails free speech, some journalists have been allowed to criticise some sections of the government in a way they would not have dared before.

But the group noted the contribution of a foundation run by Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, which has catalogued several cases of torture, wrongful imprisonment and other abuses.

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