Civic space suffers amid ongoing conflict in Tripoli
The human costs of the ongoing armed conflict in Libya are devastating. Clashes between rival groups since late August have left 115 dead and 560 injured in Tripoli. A humanitarian crisis is growing due to people displaced by violence and the lack of basic services. In this context, the United Nations (UN) has stepped up calls to stop the violence. The UN also requested unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to provide vital humanitarian assistance. On 4th September 2018, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged for an end to indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilians. OHCHR also drew attention to the plight of vulnerable populations in the conflict. In a statement, it said:
"We are also concerned about the impact of the conflict on groups in vulnerable situations, including migrants and internally displaced people. Some of the nearly 8,000 arbitrarily detained migrants are trapped in detention centres in areas where fighting has been taking place, without access to food or medical treatment."
Libyan civil society have also called for an immediate cessation of armed clashes. On 24th September 2018, sixteen CSOs called for the formation of an independent international commission. The CSOs also called on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to help guarantee freedom of expression amid the violence. However, as fighting between armed militias spirals, the civic space restrictions continue.
Facebook is where many people in #Libya turn for news, with government officials, ministries & military posting there. Now, as chaos erupts & people need access to understand what is happening, residents report the platform in blocked. #KeepItOn https://t.co/qoYKEyO1Jw— Access Now (@accessnow) September 4, 2018
On 3rd September 2018 social media platform, Facebook stopped working. Although, internet providers in Libya blamed a technical fault, activists remain suspicious. Some groups claim the blockage was a deliberate attack on freedom of expression. In response, the state telecom provider The Libyan utility LPTIC, drew attention to poor security situation. LPTIC offered no further explanation into the Facebook blockage. Access to the web in Libya is completely controlled by state-owned firms and monitored by authorities.
As previously covered by CIVICUS Monitor, restrictions on international media are ongoing amid the conflict. CSOs have condemned the complex and time consuming process to obtain visas for international journalists. On 8th August 2018, Reporters Without Borders and the Libyan Center for the Freedom of the Press drew attention to these issues. In an open letter, they highlighted how restrictions have stymied the work of journalists. The two CSOs said:
"On the pretext of offering them better security guarantees, the FMD is tightening its grip on the foreign media at a time when, in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for 10 December, the freedom to inform is proving more essential than ever for a democratic and pluralistic debate in Libya."
The CSOs reiterated calls on Libyan authorities to stop obstructing the work of journalists and the Libyan correspondents of foreign media outlets. They also highlighted lack of progress with an adequate accreditation process. Journalists are often issued temporary press permits which limit their freedom of movement. Both groups urged Libyan authorities to lift all restrictions ahead of planned elections in December.
Protests in Tripoli highlight the lack of basic services. On 16th September 2018, protesters gathered in Algeria Square to decry worsening living conditions. The protest drew several hundred participants. Comprising mainly of young people, people called for a raft of reforms to improve governance of the Libyan state. Participants highlighted the high cost of food and lack of water and electricity. Chanting, they also rejected militias and demanded a state, law and order, army and police. There are no reports of the protest turning violent.