Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Stephanie Williams’ message on World Press Freedom Day
Tripoli, 3 May 2020 - An independent media, free from intimidation and threats, is crucial to laying the foundations of democracy. On this day, I want to pay tribute to the brave journalists and media workers in Libya who, despite rising intimidation and violence, continue to carry out their duties under extremely difficult circumstances. For too long, Libyan journalists and media workers have laid down their lives in the course of their duties, seeking to report the news and share them with the public.
I call on the Libyan authorities and all parties to the conflict to protect journalists and media workers, guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information to the public.
Journalists are the voice of the voiceless; they should not be silenced. Truth should not become yet another casualty of the ongoing war. A free press is crucial for providing facts, information and analysis, holding leaders accountable and for speaking truth to power. This is particularly true in time of conflict or crisis, with Libyans now under threat from both the year-long conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today is also an occasion to raise concerns about the dramatic increase, both online and offline, in misinformation, incitement to violence and hate speech - including threats against media workers – that has occurred over the past year. This has fueled a climate of mistrust, fear and violence among different groups, contributed to deepening pre-existing divides in Libya and further weakened an already fragile social fabric. Journalists and media workers have the responsibility to uphold professional and ethical principles, including those of transparency and impartiality. On this day, I want to renew my call on journalists and media workers to join forces in fighting misinformation, hate speech and incitement.
Threatening or detaining journalists for carrying out their duties violates international human rights law and contradicts the obligation to ensure an enabling environment for the media. UNSMIL condemns all attacks on journalists and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Note to Correspondents:
Since 1 May 2019 UNSMIL documented at least nine cases in east and west Libya in which journalists and bloggers have been subjected to abduction, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and, too often, torture. Journalists and media workers are also frequently subjected to intimidation, harassment and death threats. Among the many reported cases, UNSMIL was able to document the case of two journalists shot in southern Tripoli in October 2019. In January 2020, two radio stations were attacked and set on fire in Sirte. Most recently on 3 April 2020, the Director of Garabulli Radio disappeared, while driving in al-Gweia’, east of Tripoli. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown. The Annual Report of the Defender Center for Human Rights, released in February 2020, reported that intensified violence against journalists in Libya led to the departure of over 83 Libyan journalists from the country between 2015 and 2018.