Area: 1,759, 540 sq.km.
Head of state: Col. Muammar Gaddafi
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s change of line in 2004 brought Libya a lifting of economic sanctions, rapid reintegration into the international community and a stream of top level foreign visitors. However human rights were still utterly disregarded and freedom of the press completely gagged by the "brother leader".
Col. Gaddafi’s efforts over a number of years to improve his image and return Libya to the international fold largely paid off in 2004. The former pariah state’s rehabilitation has been going well, helped by Western oil companies tempted by investment opportunities in Libyan oil, "one of the best and cheapest to produce in the world," according to industry specialists.
In December 2003, Col. Gaddafi handed over all his secret weapons of mass destruction programmes - nuclear and chemical - to the United States. "It’s too expensive and serves no purpose" he said. The United States, Germany, Britain and France demanded Libyan compensation for the victims of the 1986 Berlin bombing that killed three and injured 250, the US Pan Am plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 (270 dead) and bombing of a French UTA plane over Niger in 1989 (170 dead).
Washington lifted most economic sanctions against Tripoli between February and April and normalised their diplomatic relations. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns, became the first American government official to visit Libya for more than 30 years. Col. Gaddafi told European Commission president Romano Prodi in April that his country planned on playing the leading role in achieving world peace. Next visitors to Libya were British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar and French President Jacques Chirac. Another visitor was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who in November was awarded the Moammer Gaddafi human rights prize.
No improvement in press freedom
Col. Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, has suggested that democratic reforms would shortly be adopted in Libya, playing down the importance of the influence of the regime’s hardliners. "Libya must become an open an democratic country. Otherwise it will become a reactionary fascist dictatorship", he told Arabic daily Al-Hayat.
An Amnesty International delegation was allowed to visit Libya for the first time since 1988 and held discussion with top Libyan officials including Col. Gaddafi and the Justice Minister. At the end of the visit, the organisation said it was concerned to note that no visible or concrete steps appeared to have been taken to "prevent continued violations of the rights of prisoners after their arrest, during their detention and trial". It stressed that torture and prolonged detention remained common practices. Requests for the right to visit the country from Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders were turned down.
There is still no press freedom in Libya where criticism of the "brother leader" is not tolerated. The country holds the unhappy distinction of holding a journalist in prison for a record 31 years. Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi al-Darrat has been in prison without charge or trial since 1973. Nothing is known either about his place of detention or his state of health.
The media landscape has been atrophied by years of appalling repression and submission to government authority. Self-censorship is generalised and total. Foreign reporters who visit the country - when they manage to obtain one of the rare visas to be granted - are closely watched.
When the official daily Al-Zahf al-Akhdar (The Green March) called on the Libyan leader at the end of January to fully play his role as head of state, it received an immediate reprimand. When it wrote that the "revolution led by Gaddafi is now well matured" the newspaper was suspended for a week and accused of "indiscipline" and "publishing articles that went against the power of the masses". Al-Zahf al-Akhdar was suspended indefinitely by the standing revolutionary tribunal court in 2003 for "damaging national interests and harming Libyan orientations". The newspaper had criticised and insulted Arab countries including Bahrain and Kuwait.
Not content with silencing his own press, the Libyan leader also tries to take legal action against journalists who dare to criticise him abroad. Through his ambassador in Morocco, Col. Gaddafi laid a complaint in Rabat on 25 January against Mustapha Alawi, editor of the weekly Al Ousboue. The newspaper had carried an article on Tripoli’s decision to give up all nuclear military programmes and called on Libya to compensate the families of Moroccans killed by Libyan weapons it had supplied to the Polisario Liberation Front. Col. Gaddafi complained that a cartoon illustrating the article showing the silhouette of a trouserless individual was defamatory.
"There was nothing to say it was Gaddafi. This complaint is worthless but Gaddafi is seeking, even outside Libya, to harass journalists who dare to challenge his politics," Alawi said.