The Lebanese Information Center (LIC) strongly condemns the recent violations of freedom of expression in Lebanon. Multiple infringements by the Government of Lebanon (GOL) on this sacrosanct right, which is explicitly guaranteed by Lebanon's constitution, make a mockery of the very foundations of its democracy. Such politically-motivated censorship evokes memories of the illiberal era under Syrian occupation and threatens to mold Lebanon in the image of authoritarian regional countries like Iran.
The most recent and perhaps egregious of these breaches of basic freedoms was the sentencing of Ms. Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese journalist and researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). A military court sentenced Ms. Ghaddar in absentia to six months in prison for allegedly defaming the Lebanese Army during a panel discussion at WINEP in 2014.
But Ms. Ghaddar's was only the latest in a growing list of cases brought against journalists and activists. In November, the GOL filed a suit against respected television talk show host Mr. Marcel Ghanem, because two guests criticized President Michel Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri during a live episode. Other examples abound, including legal action brought by the government against activist Mr. Ahmad Ayyoubi over his political views, and against former member of Parliament Fares Souaid for a typographical error he made on Twitter while discussing Hezbollah. State censors earlier this month even briefly banned the screening of award-winning film The Post, before a public outcry prompted Prime Minister Saad Hariri to reverse the order.
The LIC once again condemns the GOL's attempts to censor reporters, activists, and critics, and urges it to remain committed to Lebanon's unique role as a beacon of liberty in the region. Furthermore, the LIC denounces Lebanon's use of military tribunals to prosecute civilian cases, an unjustified and unfounded form of political intimidation. Issues related to political opinions and the media should never be under the purview of military tribunals -- if they are subject to legal proceedings at all.
We call upon the U.S. administration and Congress to urgently take up this matter with the relevant Lebanese authorities and to emphasize in no uncertain terms that the United States:
- will not tolerate violations by the Lebanese state of its citizens' right to freedom of expression; and
- will hold the GOL accountable for its record on human rights and basic freedoms, including taking measures, if necessary, to put a hold on U.S. assistance to Lebanese state institutions violating these rights.