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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Lebanon

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Lebanon, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5650a23.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The free press in Lebanon suffered significant setbacks. In what was described by government officials as a fair attempt to regulate the country's broadcast media, a cabinet order granted licenses to four television and 11 radio stations, but ordered the closure of dozens of others it called "pirate" stations. Forty-seven stations, mainly from the opposition media, were denied licenses after submitting applications to the government. Companies in which government officials had financial interests received preferential treatment. Members of the government, including Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Interior Minister Michel al-Murr, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, owned or directly influenced three of the four newly licensed TV stations.

The government also imposed regulations on the newly approved stations that will affect the content of news and other broadcasts. Only the four licensed TV companies and three of the approved radio stations, including the Hariri-owned Radio Orient and Nabih Berri's yet-unformed National Broadcasting Network, may offer political programming. "The end result," noted one human rights activist, "is that now four or five politicians in the country monopolize the public and private sector [of the broadcast media]."

The print media were the target of harsh legal measures. In March, state prosecutors brought six libel suits against employees of the vocal daily opposition newspaper Al-Diyar for a series of articles and a cartoon that denounced the policies of President Elias Hrawi and Prime Minister Hariri. The suits charged editor in chief Charles Ayyoub, director Youssef al-Howeyyek, and cartoonist Elie Saliba with defamation. The defendants, who were awaiting trial at year's end, face up to two years in prison and fines of 100 million Lebanese lira (US$60,000) for each offense. Heavy monetary fines would likely force the paper out of business.

February 29
Ahmad Azakir, Associated Press (AP), HARASSED
Ali Hassan, Al-Nahar, HARASSED
Michel Barzagal, Free-lancer, HARASSED

Azakir, a photographer with AP, Hassan, a photographer with the daily Al-Nahar, and Barzagal, a free-lance photographer were detained and held for several hours by Lebanese soldiers. The photographers were accused of taking pictures of a military location during a curfew. Their film was confiscated.

March 5
Al-Diyar, LEGAL ACTION
Charles Ayyoub, Al-Diyar, LEGAL ACTION
Youssef Howeyyek, Al-Diyar, LEGAL ACTION
Elie Saliba, Al-Diyar, LEGAL ACTION

A Lebanese prosecutor charged the Beirut opposition newspaper Al-Diyar with libel in the first of six libel suits filed against the paper in March. The newspaper's editor in chief, Ayyoub; the director, Howeyyek; and a cartoonist, Saliba, were also charged in the case. The journalists were accused of "defaming and soiling the honor of the president of the republic and the government" in six articles and a cartoon that were critical of government officials. One of the articles discussed the political relationship between President Elias Hrawi and Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The cartoon satirized current members of the government, including the president. All three men face up to two years in prison and fines of up to 100 million Lebanese lira (US$60, 000) for each charge if convicted. CPJ wrote to Prime Minister Hariri on Oct. 17, the eve of his visit to Washington to meet with President Clinton, and urged Hariri to drop the charges. The trials are slated to begin on May 22, 1997.

March 9
Henri Sfeir, Nida al-Watan, LEGAL ACTION
Elias Shahine, Nida al-Watan, LEGAL ACTION
Ronnie Alfa, Nida al-Watan, LEGAL ACTION

Prosecutors charged Sfeir, owner of the daily Nida al-Watan; editor Shahine; and reporter Alfa with slandering Islam and fanning sectarian strife in Lebanon for publishing an article on Islamic sectarianism.

December 23
Pierre Atallah, Al-Nahar, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Atallah, an editor of the daily Al-Nahar, was arrested without warrant at his Beirut home during a wave of arrests against suspected Christian opposition figures that began after a van carrying Syrian workers was attacked by gunfire just north of Beirut on Dec. 18. The Ministry of Defense held him incommunicado for seven days until transferring his case to a military court for investigation into possible security crimes against the state. Lebanese government officials claimed that Atallah's arrest was not related to his journalistic work, but during the initial investigation, officials focused their questioning on a series of articles Atallah had written for Al-Nahar. These included two articles that contained interviews with former Christian militia leader Etienne Saqr, recently convicted by a Lebanese court of treason for his alleged collaboration with Israel's occupation army in south Lebanon. A third article reported on an incident in October 1996, during which the Lebanese army allegedly harassed a congregation of Christians and prevented them from entering a church in Beirut. On Dec. 31, CPJ wrote to Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, urging Atallah's release. He was released on Jan. 6, 1997, after posting bail of 7 million Lebanese lira (US$4, 000). His case remains under investigation.

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