Libya

Libya

Partly Free
49
100
A Obstacles to Access 8 25
B Limits on Content 24 35
C Violations of User Rights 17 40
Last Year's Score & Status
49 100 Partly Free

Overview

The national crisis and lack of rule of law continued to have a negative impact on internet freedom in Libya. Internet infrastructure has been damaged amid ongoing conflict and, while restrictions on content were limited, self-censorship online is common due to fear of harassment and violent reprisals. Journalists who are active online face arrest and arbitrary detention while operating in an environment in which armed groups carry out attacks with impunity. Those who attempt to report on active conflicts risk being injured or killed in the violence.

While a popular armed uprising in 2011 deposed longtime dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Libya is now racked by internal divisions, and international efforts to bring rival administrations together in a unity government have failed. A proliferation of weapons and autonomous militias, flourishing criminal networks, and the presence of extremist groups have all undermined security in the country. The ongoing violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and human rights conditions have steadily deteriorated.

Key Developments

June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • In October 2018, 4G mobile services were introduced in Tripoli. However, they are relatively expensive. Internet access more generally continues to be badly affected by the ongoing conflict (see A1).

  • In separate incidents in August and June 2018, internet access was temporarily disrupted in the cities of Tobruk and Khoms, respectively. The disruption in Tobruk was attributed to unauthorized digging, while a fiber-optic cable had been cut in Khoms (see A1).

  • In May 2019, the internationally recognized government announced the suspension of 40 foreign firms, including telecoms equipment firm Alcatel-Lucent, now owned by Finland’s Nokia, and Microsoft, saying they needed to renew their licenses. The companies were granted a grace period in which to do so, but the move was described by some analysts as a pressure tactic aimed at gaining more support for the internationally recognized authorities (see A5).

  • In October 2018, a journalist who had published on Facebook an investigation into the Ministry of Interior was arrested for defamation and publishing state secrets. He was ultimately handed a fine and a suspended one-year prison sentence (see C3).

  • The organizers of a media award, which was heavily promoted online, were released from arbitrary detention in July 2018 (see C3).

A Obstacles to Access

Internet access has been badly affected by the ongoing conflict, as electricity outages and physical damage to infrastructure have limited connectivity. However, the quality of service for those who can access the internet has improved recently. 4G mobile services were launched in Tripoli, though they are relatively expensive. The majority of the ICT sector remains monopolized by state-owned entities.

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 26

Libya’s two political authorities, one in the east and the other in the west, have not been able to cooperate effectively to rebuild infrastructure and spur development. Users across the country remain frustrated by the inconsistency of internet service, which is frequently interrupted by power cuts; poor connectivity is due also in part to high demand combined with infrastructure damage, unauthorized construction, sabotage, and theft of ICT equipment. 1

While figures vary widely, internet penetration and speeds nevertheless appear to be increasing in Libya. According to a January 2019 report by DataReportal, internet penetration reached 69 percent, an 18 percent increase from the previous year. Mobile phone use is ubiquitous, with just over 11 million mobile subscriptions in Libya, representing a penetration rate of 172 percent.2 The average mobile speed as of December 2018 was 9.98Mbps, a 135 percent increase from the previous year.3

The reported rise in users may be linked to the introduction of 4G LTE networks in major cities. Al-Madar, a state-owned mobile phone company, introduced 4G+ mobile internet services in October 2018 in Tripoli. However, 4G services are relatively expensive and absorb much of users’ phone credits (see A2).4

The state-owned internet provider Libya Telecom and Technology (LTT) introduced the country’s first 4G portable WiFi routers in March 2018 to seven cities spread across the west, east, and south of the country: Tripoli, Misrata, Zawia, Benghazi, Bayda, Shahat, and Sabha.5 The download and upload speeds are faster than the old WiMax service, but they can be negatively affected by several factors, including distance, time of use, and website content. 6 Despite a large decline in the use of fixed-line services due to the conflict, the market for high-speed broadband has opened, which may lead to an increase in the use of fiber cables.7

In the eastern city of Tobruk, 3,500 phone and internet subscribers experienced a disruption to services in August 2018. The incident, which occurred in downtown Tobruk, reportedly occurred because someone had been digging without authorization. Maintenance workers were able to reinstate the services in around a week.8 In June 2018, internet access was disrupted for several hours in the east, south, and central areas of the country because a fiber-optic cable in Khoms, a city in the west, had been cut for reasons unknown. A subsidiary of the state telecommunication company was later able to restore services. 9

In September 2018, Facebook was blocked for less than a day in the capital, Tripoli, and several other cities. A slowdown in internet preceded the blockage, which took place as militant groups clashed in the capital and elsewhere.10 According to representatives from the Libyan International Telecommunications Company (LITC) and LTT, the outage was due to a technical error from the international provider. In addition, the Libyan Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology Company (LPTIC) claimed power outages knocked out the equipment, and the insecurity prevented engineers from resetting it.11

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 13

Fees for 4G mobile services launched in October 2018 (see A1) are high, though they have begun to fall due to greater competition. In addition to the launch of 4G services, 2018 saw the introduction of inexpensive SMS and value-added services. 1

The depreciation of the Libyan dinar, part of the economic reform program of the Government of National Accord (GNA), led to a hike in the price of domestic and international calls in November 2018.2

Almadar Aljadid’s 4G+ plans range from 3 GB per month for 20 Libyan dinars ($14); to 40 GB per month for 120 dinars ($85), with download speeds up to 80Mbps.3 The cost of a home internet connection in 2018 ranged from 10 dinars ($7) per month to 30 dinars ($21) for ADSL, after initial connection fees. Higher-quality ADSL subscriptions cost between 20 to 100 dinars ($14 to $71), with speeds up to ​100Mbps.4 And the LTT 4G modems launched with a subscription cost 35 dinars ($25) for a 15 GB data plan, 60 dinars ($42) for 30 GB, and 75 dinars ($53) for a 50 GB plan.5 For comparison, Libya’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, when calculated on a per-month basis, was the equivalent of $603 in 2018, according to the World Bank.6

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 46

While no technical restrictions were enacted by authorities during the coverage period, the ongoing conflict in Libya has left internet infrastructure in disarray. For example, about 25 percent of mobile towers have been damaged or stolen.1

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 16

The state-run LPTIC, formerly the General Post and Telecommunications Company (GPTC), is the main telecommunications operator. In 1999, the GPTC awarded the first internet service provider (ISP) license to LTT, a subsidiary of the state-owned firm.1 Since the fall of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, 25 ISPs and 23 VSAT (very small aperture terminal) operators have been licensed to compete with state-owned ISPs. Many are based in Tripoli, and are owned by individuals with strong ties to governing authorities. LPTIC owns two mobile phone providers, Almadar and Libyana, while a third provider, Libya Phone, is owned by LTT.

The LPTIC has been affected by the country’s political crisis and de facto split. Separate offices were established in Malta (representing the Tobruk government) and Tripoli (representing the Tripoli government). However, the LPTIC announced in January 2017 that divisions between its board of directors had been resolved in a court case, a ruling that was upheld the same year. In March 2018, the LPTIC head announced that the body had reunified;2 it began holding meetings and announced $1.7 billion worth of new information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure projects.3 In addition to bolstering telecommunication infrastructure, the LPTIC planned to launch, in 2019, work on a National Data Centre and “Libya Sat” project,4 though this did not appear to have been initiated at the end of this report’s coverage period.

The Ericsson and Nokia Networks were contracted in 2014 to establish a national mobile broadband network, while Alcatel-Lucent signed a contract with the LITC to build a subsea cable system that would link Tripoli and Benghazi.5 However, neither of these appeared to have been established as of May 2019.

Chinese tech companies have maintained a presence in Libya after the fall of Qadhafi. Huawei worked on the introduction to 4G service.6

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 04

Libya’s regulatory environment is plagued by ongoing disputes over the country’s political governance. The ICT regulator is the General Authority of Communications and Informatics (GACI), formerly known as the General Telecom Authority (GTA). During the Qadhafi era, decisions on licensing were made by the government-controlled GPTC (now the LPTIC).1 After the revolution, the transitional government established the Ministry of Communications and Informatics to oversee the telecommunications sector. Officially, the ministry runs the sector through two main bodies: LPTIC and GACI. GACI is nominally responsible for policymaking and regulations, while LPTIC is a holding company for all telecommunications service providers in the country. Libya’s top-level domain, “.ly,” falls under the responsibility of LTT. In 2017, the Appeals Court in Tripoli ruled that LPTIC chairman Faisal Gergab, backed by the GNA, and his management team were the sole legitimate representatives of LPTIC.2

In 2014, the Ministry of Communications and Informatics appointed a committee to draft a new Telecommunication Act to set standards for the sector and replace the existing regulations surrounding ICTs. The act, which has been drafted but not implemented,3 also aims to create an independent Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) to oversee the industry.4

During the coverage period, authorities sought assistance from the International Telecommunications Union to develop a telecom regulatory framework.

Separately, in May 2019, the internationally recognized government announced the suspension of 40 foreign firms, including telecoms equipment firm Alcatel-Lucent, now owned by Finland’s Nokia, and Microsoft, saying they needed to renew their licenses. While the companies were granted a grace period in which to do so, the move was described by some analysts as a politically motivated decision designed to press for greater support for internationally recognized authorities, as the Libyan National Army (LNA), a military alliance led by Khalifa Haftar, was attacking Tripoli.5

B Limits on Content

While the online media landscape opened suddenly after the fall of Qadhafi, the subsequent battle for leadership of the country and accompanying lawlessness fostered self-censorship, harassment, and threats against journalists and online commentators, and a scarcity of high-quality reporting. Facebook is an important news source for many Libyans.

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 56

The blocking of websites for partisan reasons has been infrequent in the post-Qadhafi era, though many pornographic websites were blocked in 2013 by the LTT, and remain inaccessible.1

YouTube,2 Twitter,3 and international blog-hosting services4 were freely available during the coverage period. However, in September 2018, Facebook was temporarily inaccessible in Tripoli and several other cities while fighting between militant groups was taking place. Users reported that internet speeds slowed before Facebook became inaccessible, and that other websites remained online (see A1). The LPTIC claimed that technical errors and power outages caused the blockage.5

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 34

Authorities do not frequently request that private providers or intermediaries delete content. Rather, there are coordinated efforts to “report” Facebook pages for deletion, particularly for political views against militias. Separately, many Qadhafi-era government webpages containing information on laws and regulations from before the uprising are inaccessible, as is the online archive of the old state-run Libyan newspapers. Some of these websites may have become defunct after the officials running them were ousted or hosting fees were left unpaid, but others were likely taken down deliberately when the revolutionaries came to power.

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 34

A 2006 law mandates that websites registered under the “.ly” domain must not contain content that is “obscene, scandalous, indecent, or contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality.”1 Prior to the war, “indecency” was prohibited by law but sexually explicit sites were not typically blocked. However, blocks of such material have been enforced in the post-Qadhafi era (see B1).

Officials have yet to formulate regulations outlining when sites may be blocked, though relevant Qadhafi-era regulations remain valid officially. In practice, the procedures for the blocking of sites are opaque. When accessing a banned website, users are shown a message from the service provider noting that the site has been blocked.

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 14

The 2011 revolution brought a notable increase in the number of bloggers writing within Libya, many of whom expressed hope for the future, discussed political activism, and voiced criticism of authorities. More recently, Libya’s bloggers have increasingly practiced self-censorship due to continued instability, increasing threats, and violence against journalists over the past years. Many parties to the ongoing conflict have made clear their hostility to critical and independent journalism, and those who voice dissent, criticism of militia groups or leaders, or other controversial views (such as religious commentary) risk retaliation. Press freedom groups have documented many cases of disappearances, abduction, and torture of journalists (see C7). In a reflection of the extreme risk of speaking out in Libya, many journalists and their family members have requested that rights groups not identify them by name when they report on such abuses.1

Activists and journalists seeking to cover the ongoing clashes between militia groups also risk being injured or killed, and there is no authority capable of legally holding perpetrators accountable. Many journalists continue to leave Libya rather than risk their lives by reporting within its borders (see C7).2

Even though users have faced legal and other consequences for expressing their opinions on social media, some people, according to media reports, say they are unafraid of criticizing authorities on a public platform, because the public nature of such posts can discourage retaliation. One official said, “I feel safe criticizing [high-level officials] through my Facebook, because I’m doing so transparently through a personal platform. It becomes harder for them to touch you without compromising themselves.”3

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 24

Some Facebook pages serve as propaganda outlets for warring parties. These pages are generally opaque about their ownership, editorial policy, and publishing guidelines.1

The posts of some Facebook users known as “keyboard warriors” manipulate information to widen ethnic divides, or weaken state institutions such as the central bank.2 In March 2019, a Twitter campaign, #تأمين العاصمة (#SecuringTheCapital) advocated for Haftar to take control of Tripoli. According to the Stanford Internet Observatory, it was reportedly part of “foreign-initiated pro-Haftar social media campaigns.”3

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 33

There are few economic or regulatory constraints that inhibit the ability to publish content online. However, under Prime Minister Sarraj, some journalists have experienced difficulties in securing visas and permits to gather information.1

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 34

Even as self-censorship increases and support for journalism remains scarce,1 the online media landscape is much more diverse than it was under the Qadhafi regime. Facebook hosts hundreds of active pages dedicated to national and local news, and serves as the main source of news about Libya for a large number of users inside and outside the country.2 Some of these pages are affiliated with professional television, radio, or print news outlets, while others lack professional standards. Likely due to the risk of reprisals for speaking freely, private Facebook pages are more likely than their public counterparts to host political debates.3

In April 2019, Google was the most visited website in the country, followed by YouTube and Facebook, according to the Alexa Top Sites service.4

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 46

Libyans have used Facebook and Twitter to mobilize around a variety of causes. In March 2018, young activists from across the country joined a Facebook page called the March 30th Movement, which called for peace and the reunification of Libya. Following a November 2018 attack in Tazirbu, a town under control of the LNA, that was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group,1 digital activists focused on peace, safety, and security circulated photos of around ten kidnapped citizens after they were first published by the Tazirbu Media Center on Facebook.2 Several other campaigns have focused on supporting peace or movement toward a unity government, or on promoting various social-justice causes, defending freedom of expression, and commemorating individuals murdered for their activism. Most of these campaigns started and spread through hashtags.

While social media continues to be a vibrant forum for discussion, there appears to be both a noticeable shift to less overtly political issues over the past few years, as well as a growing skepticism of the ability of digital activism to shape the political landscape amid the country’s ongoing turmoil.

C Violations of User Rights

Amid the ongoing constitutional crisis and weak rule of law, several journalists active online faced arrest and operated in an environment in which armed factions carried out attacks with impunity. Appropriate oversight of the country’s surveillance apparatus remained shrouded in doubt.

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 16

Freedom of opinion, communication, and the press are guaranteed by Libya’s Draft Constitutional Charter, released by the Libyan Transitional National Council in September 2011.1 However, delays in the drafting of a constitution and the general absence of law enforcement have contributed to weak rule of law in the country.2 Perpetrators of crimes against journalists and activists enjoy impunity, and the judicial system faces functional difficulties.3

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 14

Several repressive Qadhafi-era laws remain on the books due to the absence of significant legal reforms in the country since the revolution. These include measures carrying harsh punishments for those who publish content deemed offensive or threatening to Islam, national security, or territorial integrity. A law on collective punishment is particularly egregious, allowing the authorities to punish entire families, towns, or districts for the transgressions of one individual.1 Because of their vague wording, these laws can be applied to any form of speech, whether transmitted via the internet, mobile phone, or traditional media. There are no laws that explicitly criminalize online activity.

  • 1. IREX, Media Sustainability Index – Middle East and North Africa 2005, (Washington D.C.: IREX, 2006), 36, http://bit.ly/1GdOOrH.

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 36

While reports of arrests in response to online activity are uncommon, two prominent media figures and organizers of an annual media award, which was promoted heavily online, Suliman Gashout and Mohammed Yaghubi, were detained at the Mitiga detention center after their warrantless arrests in April 2018,1 and held until that July.2

In December 2018, freelance journalist Mukhtar al-Halak was given a suspended one-year prison sentence for publishing “security information,” and fined around $57. He had been arrested and held for 11 days in October of that year, after writing about the disappearance of vehicles issued to the security directorate by the Ministry of the Interior. He later photographed the squalid conditions he was held in upon being detained and posted them to social media, where they were shared.3

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 34

There are generally not onerous registration requirements or restrictions on anonymous communications in Libya. However, in 2017, Libyana Mobile Phone deactivated foreign subscribers’ cell phones, reportedly over concerns that criminals and radical groups were organizing by using Libyana services that had been registered to migrants passing through the country. Libyana said it would allow foreign residents to reactivate their SIM cards if they were able to produce a valid visa and passport.1 Almadar, the other mobile operator in the country, took similar action.

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 26

The surveillance capabilities and activities of domestic intelligence agencies are unclear, as is the LPTIC’s involvement in any such activity.1 There are concerns that powerful surveillance tools left over from the Qadhafi era may have been reactivated. Given the lack of an independent judiciary or procedures outlining the circumstances under which the state may conduct surveillance, there is little to prevent the government, security agencies, or militias who have access to the equipment from abusing its capabilities.

The Qadhafi regime had direct access to the country’s DNS servers and engaged in widespread surveillance of online communications. Sophisticated equipment from foreign firms such as the French company Amesys,2 and possibly the Chinese firm ZTE, were sold to the regime, enabling intelligence agencies to intercept communications on a nationwide scale and collect massive amounts of data on both phone and internet usage. Correspondents from the Wall Street Journal who visited an internet monitoring center after the regime’s collapse reportedly found a storage room lined floor-to-ceiling with dossiers of the online activities of Libyans and foreigners with whom they communicated.3

Following the arrest of Ashraf Al-Maghrabi in September 2017 over his posts on Facebook, the body that arrested him—Benghazi’s Information and Antiterrorism Room—warned social media activists that it was watching their activity and suggested that they could be arrested for disturbing national security.4

C6 0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 36

Because state authorities own all of Libya’s mobile phone operators (see A4), presumably it would be relatively easy for the authorities to obtain user information. At the same time, militias have exerted less pressure on ISPs to conduct surveillance.1

  • 1. Meeting with Freedom House consultant, 2018

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 25

The breakdown of the rule of law and the growing influence of militias have resulted in a worrying uptick in politically motivated threats and violence against journalists and activists since the 2011 war. Human rights defenders, activists, and social media bloggers have been physically attacked, detained, threatened, harassed, and disappeared by armed groups, some of whom are affiliated with the state authorities, in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya.

Online journalists and activists operate in an extremely violent environment. For example, in July 2018, Moussa Abdel Karim, a journalist with the newspaper Fasaniah, based in the southwestern city of Sebha was abducted by “criminal groups,” according to the IFJ, tortured, and ultimately murdered.1 Mohamed Ben Khalifa, a photojournalist who had worked with the Associated Press, was killed in January 2019 while reporting on skirmishes between militias in Tripoli; he was hit by a bomb’s shrapnel. 2

Various actors have harnessed the power of social media to target or smear people, organizations, and events that they do not approve of or agree with—a particularly worrying form of online bullying that can have far-reaching consequences in a country without laws or security. In a severe example of such behavior, in 2014 anonymous users set up a Facebook page featuring the names, photos, and addresses of Benghazi activists, and calling for their assassination and kidnapping. The page was taken down after online activists reported it.3 Facebook is still used by various armed groups to monitor and identify dissenters, some of whom are ultimately arrested, killed, or driven to flee.4

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 23

Throughout 2018, a number of Libyan entities and individuals were targeted by various kinds of cyberattacks, including malware and phishing. Many of the attacks exploited a network vulnerability within a Microsoft protocol1 Weak services, such as file transfer and remote desktop protocols, also create openings for cyberattacks.2

  • 1. According to Libyan Roots, “Most of network attacks was focusing on exploiting Microsoft SMB version 1 vulnerability MS17-010 trying to compromise systems has vulnerable SMB enabled without authentication, also targeting the same protocol SMB but on different OS versions, hackers trying to exploit MS08-067 vulnerability as well but for older windows OS versions.”
  • 2. Information Security Statistics in Libya for 2018, Libyan Roots, 31 December 2018, https://www.dropbox.com/s/7tuga535nhu7tac/Information%20Security%20Stat…

Country Facts

  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes

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