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Editor held for more than three months in Libya for insulting the judiciary

Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of Amara Abdallah Al-Khitabi, the editor of the privately-owned newspaper Al-Umma, since 19 December 2012 and calls for his immediate release.

Khitabi is charged with defaming and insulting the judiciary because the 21 November issue of his newspaper carried a list of 87 judges and prosecutors suspected of corruption. The list's origin was not mentioned but, according to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, it was already circulating on online social networks before it appeared in Al-Umma.

The charge of insulting the judiciary carries a possible sentence of three to 15 years in prison under article 195 of the criminal code, which dates back to the Gaddafi era. Khitabi is also accused of not having a licence for his newspaper, but his lawyer denies this and has supporting evidence.

Khitabi's trial before a criminal court began on 18 February and is due to resume tomorrow. His lawyer has not been allowed to see him since his arrest.

He is being held in a military prison in the Tripoli neighbourhood of Hadba. Aged 67, he has diabetes, hypertension and a prostate condition but his family has not been allowed to provide him with the medicine he needs. As he has difficulty walking, the family also wanted to give him a wheelchair, but this request was denied too.

His health is worsening steadily and has not been improved by the fact that he began a hunger strike on 28 February. Reporters Without Borders has been told he has been transferred to a hospital.

Reporters Without Borders points out that Libya is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and should therefore comply with its international obligations on conditions of detention.

As regards freedom of information and expression, Reporters Without Borders also reminds Libya that the UN Human Rights Committee said in its General Comment No. 34: “States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and (…) imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.”

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the growing dangers to which Libyan journalists are exposed. The fight against corruption goes hand in hand with transparency in all democratic societies and, in this respect, the role of journalists is fundamental.

The judiciary and government officials must accept and tolerate a great deal of criticism because they are at the heart of public life and the subject of general interest.

Reporters Without Borders urges the General National Congress, Libya's legislature, to quickly adopt legislation that protects freedom of information, although the drafting of a constitution is still pending.

Such legislation is clearly imperative and would guarantee that the new Libyan state is firmly committed to a lasting democratic process.

Read in Arabic.

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