The Libyan authorities must drop charges against two politicians who published a cartoon on women’s rights deemed to be offensive to Islam, Amnesty International said today.
Libyan National Party policy manager Ali Tekbali and Fathi Sager, the party’s secretary general, are due to appear in court this Sunday, 16 June at the Criminal Court in Tripoli. They are facing the death penalty over a cartoon calling for gender equality and women’s rights that was circulated on an electoral campaign poster last June.
The cartoon features a group of men discussing the role of women in Libyan society, including a bearded character. That same character appeared as the Prophet Muhammad three months later in a controversial anti-Islamic comic published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last September. The cartoon, however, did not make any reference to the Prophet Muhammad or to Islam.
The men face a string of charges under articles of the Penal Code which were used to repress political opposition and freedom of expression during the al-Gaddafi era. They are accused of spreading discord among Libyans and intending “to change basic principles” of the constitution, as well as insulting Islam and incitement to hatred. Two of these charges incur the death penalty.
“The charges against Ali Tekbali and Fathi Sager are ludicrous and must be dropped immediately. If convicted on these charges Ali Tekbali and Fathi Sager would be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.