Geneva – The arrest of a media office director in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi after he criticised the demolition of several local buildings is deeply concerning, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement calling for activist Maher Elgheryani’s detention location to be revealed and his immediate release.
A security force from the Tariq Ben Zeyad Brigade arrested Elgheryani on Friday, 7 April. The brigade is affiliated with retired Major General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which control of large areas of eastern Libya. The arrest occurred one day after Elgheryani’s release from custody of the Internal Security Agency in Benghazi, where he was initially detained for hours. Contact with Elgheryani has been cut off since the arrest, leaving his family in the dark about his whereabouts, and constituting a crime that amounts to enforced disappearance.
Elgheryani’s most recent activity was on his Facebook account on 7 April, when he shared a post following his release from the Internal Security Agency in which he thanked those who had asked about him. According to the post, his detention was related to previous comments he’d made on the social media platform criticising an ongoing campaign to demolish buildings and houses and forcibly evict residents from Benghazi’s centre. All posts were in line with the principles of free speech and expression, without any offence or defamation that is criminalised by law, and thus, none required his detention and accountability.
Euro-Med Monitor condemned the continued targeting and prosecution of civil society activists and decried the unjustified arrests, noting that Elgheryani’s arrest and subsequent enforced disappearance are part of an intimidation campaign aimed at silencing voices and suppressing any opposition. With the country’s existing political divide, absence of rule of law, and presence of several security forces and armed groups with significant power but no accountability, various human rights—including freedom of expression—are among a long list of those that are particularly infringed upon in Libya.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by Libya’s 2011 Constitutional Declaration, which stipulates the guarantee of freedom of expression per the law, although it does not explicitly state that restrictions on freedom of expression must only be imposed to achieve a legitimate goal or out of necessity, as stated in international law. Article 14 of the Declaration protects numerous freedoms, including freedom of opinion for individuals and groups, freedom of scientific research, and freedom of communication, plus liberty of the press, printing, publication, and mass media.
Libyan authorities, security agencies, and de facto administration forces must adhere to international human rights standards, including ensuring freedom of expression as outlined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Accordingly, Euro-Med Monitor calls on Libyan authorities to reveal the fate and location of activist Maher Elgheryani’s detention and immediately release him, as well as to stop arresting and prosecuting individuals for exercising their right to free expression.