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Criminal Justice System

The Libyan system of criminal justice has been heavily influenced by Islamic law, particularly since Qadhafi's proclamation of the Popular Revolution on April 15, 1973. On that date, the Libyan leader announced that all existing laws formulated by the monarchy were to be replaced by the sharia, the sacred law of Islam. Some amendments to bring the criminal code into conformity with Islam had been made before this proclamation. In October 1972, the government enacted a law providing for the amputation of the right hands of convicted thieves. (As a modern note to this traditional Islamic punishment, the government gave assurances that amputation would be performed at a hospital under sanitary conditions with an anesthetic.) In practice, this penalty has not been commonly imposed.

Qadhafi's proclamation involved a reorientation of Libya's entire criminal code, because, according to the 1954 code, no act was a crime unless defined as such by law. Yet the code also specified that nothing in the criminal code affected the individual rights provided for in Islamic sharia. The two provisions were basically incompatible because the 1954 code identified crimes in decreasing order of seriousness as felonies, misdemeanors, and contraventions, assigning maximum sentences to each, whereas under the sharia an act could be--depending upon the circumstances-- mandatory, commendable, permissible, reprehensible, or forbidden.

Efforts to align the criminal code's three categories of offense with the five classifications embodied in the sharia involved Libyan legal and religious scholars in an extensive and slow-moving process to minimize the obvious contradictions in the two systems. Changes in the code's provisions were announced from time to time, but the basic philosophical issues had not been completely resolved by 1973.

Amendments to the criminal code after 1973 addressed both moral issues related to Islamic beliefs and purely secular matters, notably those concerning state security. In official legal announcements in 1973 and 1974, lashings and imprisonment of adulterers, imprisonment of homosexuals for up to five years, and floggings for those transgressing the fast of Ramadan were issued as laws "in line with positive Islamic legislation." Another law provided forty lashes for any Muslim who drank or served alcoholic beverages. For alcoholic-related offenses, non-Muslims could receive fines or imprisonment, and fines and jail terms were set for possession of or trafficking in liquor.

In August 1975, following a major coup attempt, the criminal code was further revised to strengthen state security. Such actions as "scheming" with foreigners to harm Libya's military or political position, facilitating war against the state, revealing state or defense secrets, infiltration into military reservations, and possession of means of espionage were made subject to harsh penalties, including life imprisonment and hanging. Punishments for public servants were stiffer than for ordinary citizens.

An increasing number of acts have brought the threat of execution. A 1975 law provided that membership in a political party opposing the principles of the 1969 Revolution could result in death. In 1977 economic crimes, such as damaging oil installations or stock piles of basic commodities, were added. Qadhafi's repeated calls for abolition of the death sentence have not been translated into legislative action.

The Libyan criminal justice system under the Qadhafi-led government has been characterized by many repressive features. Victims reported torture and beatings during interrogation as a matter of practice, and long jail sentences for political nonconformity. Other irregularities included bypassing the regular court system by special tribunals and holding show trials. The international human rights organization, Amnesty International, has repeatedly reported evidence of grave violations of civil rights and of Libyan law. Most of Amnesty International's inquiries and appeals to Libya to free political prisoners, to abandon torture to extract confessions, and to commute death penalties have gone unanswered.

An account by Amnesty International in 1977 cited twenty-six executions (the first death penalties that had been carried out in twenty-three years), large numbers of Libyans who had been held in detention for up to four years without court action, trials that were "anything but fair and impartial," and defendants who were deprived of their basic legal rights under Libyan law. When it was pointed out to Libyan authorities that they were failing to conform to UN agreements Libya had ratified--the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights--the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs replied that there were currently no political prisoners in Libyan prisons and that all means of defense and safeguards of justice were provided for accused persons. In 1978 Amnesty International asserted that the people's court system violated the UN agreements because the courts were composed largely of government representatives rather than members of an impartial judiciary. Moreover, all trials in people's courts were held in secret and no appeals were permitted.

A further report by Amnesty International described a new series of breaches of judicial norms between 1982 and 1984. It cited the trial in 1982 of twenty-five individuals on charges of membership in an illegal organization (the Baath--Arab Socialist Resurrection--Party). The accused were acquitted because their confessions were obtained through torture. In violation of Libyan law, they were retried in 1983 before a revolutionary court headed by a captain in the special security branch and received severe sentences, including death penalties in three cases. In 1984, eight people were hanged publicly following decisions of Basic People's Congresses in their localities that they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamic movement banned by Qadhafi as an illegal political party. In the same year, two students were hanged before thousands of their fellow students at Al Fatah University in Tripoli. No explanation was given of the charges or of the judicial proceedings, although the students were possibly tried before the student revolutionary committee. Amnesty International has been unsuccessful in gaining its representatives admission to trials and has not received replies to most of its inquiries and appeals.

The penal system was a responsibility of the Secretariat of Interior and was administered by a department of the police administration. Three institutions--the Central Prison at Tripoli, Kuwayfiyah Prison at Benghazi, and Jdeida Prison outside Tripoli-- were known to exist, and smaller facilities in less populated centers were assumed to be part of the system. Qadhafi granted permission for visits by Amnesty International to several prisons in the late 1970s, but the necessary arrangements were never made by Libyan authorities. Subsequent efforts to inspect living conditions of political prisoners have been unsuccessful.

According to a report submitted by Libya to the UN, the prison system was reorganized under Law No. 47 in 1975. According to the report, the thrust of this law was to change the prisons from institutions of "punishment and terror" to ones where inmates were afforded education and training as part of a program to rehabilitate offenders. According to the report, the law envisaged a series of increasingly less restrictive penal facilities in which inmates could earn moves upward through a hierarchy of prisons by good behavior and an appropriate attitude. As of 1987 the extent to which these objectives had been realized had not been made public.

Data as of 1987

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