General Abdelrazek al-Nadhouri denied that the requirement for a 'mahram' or male guardian was motivated by religion or politics
Libyans on Monday denounced a decision by the country's eastern authorities banning women under 60 from travelling abroad without a male guardian after alleged cases of women spying.
"The decision to forbid travel for Libyan women under the age of 60 without a 'mahram' is not motivated by religion or politics. It's about Libya's national security," General Abdelrazek al-Nadhouri said on Sunday.
A mahram in Islamic sharia law is a woman's husband or a male family member that she cannot marry such as a father, son or brother.
"We have known of cases of Libyan women dealing with foreign intelligence services," Nadhouri told the Libya television channel.
"We respect Libyan women who are totally free as long as they stay on Libyan soil, but we must keep an eye on them as soon as they leave it," he said.
His remarks caused anger from Libyans online.
"We're a majority in this country. Does this mean that half the population is ready to betray the nation?" a woman surgeon asked on Facebook.
Salah al-Marghani, a former justice minister, wrote on Twitter: "I am outraged at the insult (to) Libyan women."
He said their "right to free travel as guaranteed by the Creator" had been "bashed" by Nadhouri's decision.
Another social media user poked fun at the decision.
"Are we telling women they can spy as long as a male guardian is with them?" he wrote.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 toppling of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with rival authorities and militias battling for control of the oil-rich country.
— Mohamed Eljarh (@Eljarh) February 19, 2017
The authorities in Libya's east have refused to recognise a UN-backed unity government in the capital Tripoli since last year.
But on Monday Libyans - men and women - appeared united in condemning the travel ban.
"Even if I live in Tripoli, I can't help but be outraged by the decision," said 21-year-old female student Nur el-Hoda Sherif.