Six Libyan nationals are under threat of execution for trying to “make people leave Islam”, as authorities increase their use of the law to clamp down on political dissent and blasphemy.
The arrests made across Western Libya were to “stop an organised gang action aiming to solicit and to make people leave Islam”, Libya’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) said in a statement released this week.
Videos posted online by the ISA appear to show Arab and Amazigh detainees confessing to trying to convince others to convert to Christianity.
“I was born in 1977 and I was arrested by the Internal Security Unit for converting to Christianity. I joined a group of Libyans and foreigners inside Libya calling and circulating for Christianity,” said detainee Seyfao Madi in one excerpt.
The group contains both men and women, who have all been detained as part of arrests made since March.
The Libyan penal code recommends the death penalty for any expression of views or principles perceived as aiming to overthrow the political, social, or economic order of the state, and proscribes acts of blasphemy.
Human Rights Watch called for a reform of the penal code in April, and “redefining criminal acts to exclude peaceful exercise of the right to express opinions, assemble and establish associations”.
Libyan legislators and authorities must also “repeal the death penalty as a punishment for establishing or participating in unlawful organisations”, HRW said.
“Libyan authorities are crushing civic space using the tired pretext of enforcing regulations,” said HRW’s Hanan Salah.
“The authorities should instead be protecting that space by upholding the right to freedom of association.”