CAIRO (AP) — A global rights group Monday urged authorities in eastern Libya to release a singer and a blogger arrested for allegedly violating a widely criticized cybercrime law.
According to a statement from Human Rights Watch, both women — popular folk singer Ahlam al-Yamani and blogger Haneen al-Abdali — were arrested in February for allegedly violating “honor and public morals.”
The Interior Ministry in the eastern city of Benghazi accused them of insulting “the status of the chaste and dignified Libyan woman in our conservative society with acts and behaviors that are foreign to us and offend our customs, traditions and true religion.”
They have since been held in connection with cases “against honor and public morals” and for violating the anti-cybercrime law, which the east-based House of Representatives adopted in September, the ministry said.
A spokesman for the the east-based government did not respond to a request for comment.
U.N.-backed investigators and other global rights groups have criticized the law, which allows prion terms up to 15 years for violators.
“The Anti-Cybercrime Law adds to the slew of existing laws in Libya that violate basic rights and freedoms and that need to be reformed, including on freedom of speech, assembly, association and so-called crimes against the state,” said Hanan Salah, HRW’s associate Middle East and North Africa director.
The group criticized what it said are vague and overly broad definitions of crimes in the law. The law stipulates that use of the internet and new technologies is lawful only if “public order and morality” are respected, without clear definitions of offenses.
The rights group said the law allows the blocking of websites and censoring of online content without a judicial order in cases of “security requirement or urgency” or when the content in question is counter to “public morality.”
It called for the east-based parliament to repeal the legislation and authorities in eastern Libya to free anyone detained in connection to that law.
Libya was plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. For most of the past decade, the country has been divided between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.
Eastern Libya is controlled by forces of commander Khalifa Hifter, who is allied with the government of Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha.
Bashagha was appointed prime minister early last year after Libya failed to hold elections in December 2021 and a rival government in the capital of Tripoli refused to step down.