Libya is a North African country of 6.2 million inhabitants, of which 97% are Sunni Muslims. The Amazigh ethnic minority counts some Ibadi Muslims and there are small Christian communities among sub-Saharan African and Egyptian migrants. Libya is the fourth largest African country by area and holds the world’s tenth-largest proven oil reserves. The country has been through tumultuous years since the Libyan uprising in 2011 and the civil war that followed.

This country is found to be in flux. Continuing political strife between secular and Islamist blocs means the constitution remains suspended. The rating conditions below reflect the state of the law prior to further dispute in 2014. The rating reflects that the situation for the non-religious is not improved, and discrimination is maintained by social inertia during the political turmoil.

Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

After an interim government (“General National Congress”) was in charge for a transition period after the revolution, a new parliament was elected in June 2014. In November 2014, the election was annulled by the Supreme Court. The parliament, at the moment based in the city of Tobruk near the Egyptian border, rejected the Supreme Court’s ruling. A newly formed Islamist-dominated “New General National Congress” opposes the elected parliament and hold regular meetings in Tripoli, the capital. In December 2014, Libya was described as a “non-state” by U.N. special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon.

The country is torn between Islamist and secular forces claiming leadership and in armed conflicts along political, regional and tribal lines. Beside the anti-Islamist Tobruk government and the Islamist Tripoli government the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Libya Province established itself as a third power. In February 2015 the IS-Islamists beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. Hundreds of individuals were killed in politically motivated assassinations by Islamist armed groups. Further, Islamists carried out public executions and floggings and established an Islamic court and Islamic police (hisba unit). On all sides armed forces are holding civilians often as hostages, including torture, in both state and militia prisons.

In general, the access to lawyers and basic process rights is not granted by the government. Militia attacks on judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and witnesses caused the closure of courts, the breakdown of law and order, and a prevailing climate of impunity. The government has failed in protecting religious minorities or religious (Sufi) sites against violent extremist groups.

Interim Constitution

The constitutional declaration of 2011 functions as the interim constitution. It states that Islam is the state religion. Islamic law is the principal source of legislation and it provides limited protection of freedom religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression. Non-Muslims are accorded the freedom to practice their beliefs. Article 6 of the interim constitution states that “there shall be no discrimination among Libyans on the basis of religion or sect” with regard to legal, political, and civil rights. But other laws and policies restrict these rights.  There is no law providing for an individual’s right to choose or change his or her religion or to study, discuss, or promulgate one’s religious beliefs. There is also no law prohibiting apostasy or proselytizing; however, in practice the government has been prohibiting proselytizing to Muslims.

Further, Article 291 of the Penal Code of 1953 prohibits insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad and the maximum charge for blasphemy is death sentence.

Education and children’s rights

Religious instruction in Islam was required in public schools and in private schools that admit citizens, but there was no in-depth instruction on other religions available in the curricula. The government did not issue information on the religious affiliation of children in public schools, but there are no reports of children transferring to private schools for alternative religious instruction.

In April 2014 a militia group in Derna insisted that the sexes should be segregated at university and constructed a wall, limiting female students’ access to education.

Family, community and society

Sharia law governs family matters for Muslims, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. Under this body of law, a non-Muslim woman who marries a Muslim man is not required to convert to Islam, although many do so; however, a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. The Ministry for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs administers non-Muslim family law issues, although without a parallel legal framework and draws upon neighboring countries’ family law precedents for non-Muslims. The ministry provides imams with political and social messages for Friday sermons.

Women face discrimination and are inadequately protected. Sexual harassment is prevalent, male relatives are reported to have killed several women in “honour killings” and unveiled women may be stopped and threatened at checkpoints. Women travelling without a male guardian may be challenged.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

There was a blossoming of free media, and open public debate after the overthrow of Gaddafi. In June 2012, Libya’s Supreme Court struck down a law that would have restricted any speech deemed insulting to the country’s people and institutions.

However, media freedom advocacy groups have reported an increase in restrictions on journalists since the early days of the revolution. On-going sectarian and political turbulence has seen rising violence, and murders of journalists and other public figures. While freedom of assembly has also increased since Gaddafi, the continuing street violence, and threats from more organized militias, often deter peaceful assemblies and the public expression of dissenting views.

Libyan atheists and agnostics are threatened and intimidated due to their writings on social media.


“I am a Libyan atheist woman in a deeply Islamic country and suffering is just a tiny word for all that what I have been through. Years ago I was an admin of a Facebook Page for Libyan female atheists and you can not imagine how many threat messages and insults I got every day in my inbox. A woman in Libya is suffering, especially if she is different! I am wearing the Hijab against my will since I was young. My phone has been taken away many times and I have been beaten. I am living as a ghost and hiding my ideas. I have accepted to be a slave rather than to lose my head.

I can not imagine what my parents would say about my atheism. Even if could avoid the criticism of my mother, I couldn’t avoid it from the others. They would call me a prostitute. People would say you are an unbeliever and you don’t deserve to live and Sharia law should be applied on you. As soon as you have a different point of view they think you do not deserve to live. Even the one that loves you the most becomes an enemy and would not hesitate to behead you.”

— Aisha

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