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Journalist briefly detained over online posts
July 21, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

General Security briefly detained a journalist Friday over Facebook posts and articles that were critical of local political authorities. The move is the latest in a string of actions taken by security forces in response to online speech.

Journalist Mohammad Awwad was detained and questioned by General Security at 6 a.m. Friday and was later released after signing a pledge.

Although Awwad was not notified of a specific post considered to be problematic, he said he was given the impression that it was more than one post.

“They had a problem with everything that I write. They asked me what I’ve written about recently ... and made me sign a pledge, which is not legally binding, to not bring up religious and sect leaders,” Awwad told The Daily Star.

Awwad said he was told the leaders include the president, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, the Sunni grand mufti and the Maronite patriarch – none of which he addressed in his recent posts, he claimed.

“Social media websites are the only platforms of freedom available to us. If they are that bothered by it, let them shut down the internet in the whole country,” Awwad added.

The warrant for his questioning was issued by Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Nazek al-Khatib, Awwad said, adding that he was not told who had filed the complaint.

When contacted by The Daily Star, a General Security spokesperson said they did not have information on the incident.

Awwad’s arrest is the latest in an apparent crackdown by Lebanese authorities on social media activity.

Charbel Khoury was interrogated Thursday by the Internal Security Forces Anti-Cybercrimes Bureau over a Facebook post in which he made a sarcastic joke about the medical miracles of St. Charbel.

He was released after signing a pledge not to address religion in his posts and deactivate his Facebook account for a month.

An ISF source told The Daily Star that the complaint against Khoury was filed by the Catholic Center for Media and the ISF was merely enforcing decisions issued by the general prosecution. “The ISF does not have a say in these cases,” the source said.

Ayman Mhanna, the director of the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, told The Daily Star, “There is no way we can accept what happened with Charbel Khoury.” He added that people’s right to satire should not be compromised to “please the most religiously conservative.”

Mhanna also addressed the violent threats sent to Khoury on social media after his post. “On one level, you have a person or two people held accountable by authorities for expressing their opinion. On the other hand, you have cases that are clear violations of the law: threatening, calling for murder and rape – these are crimes. Not seeing any action taken toward these people is even more outrageous,” Mhanna said.

Earlier in the week, the Anti-Cybercrimes Bureau also called in Imad Bazzi, the founder of organization Empower Advocacy, for questioning. “I received a phone call from Cyber-crimes bureau calling me in for investigation this Friday because of a facebook post on Eden Bay! an illegal resort built on public property. Welcome to #Lebanon land of free speech :)” tweeted Bazzi, who had to postpone the questioning due to a surgery.

His post, published two weeks ago, condemned Eden Bay’s controversial construction at Beirut’s Ramlet al-Baida beach. He said the post prompted a lawsuit against him from the project’s owners. Eden Bay is majority-owned by Wissam Achour. A representative for Achour declined to make any immediate comment.

“The police have the right to call people for investigation. What is shocking is why he was called in – the accusation of defamation,” Mhanna said of Bazzi’s case, describing the post as an example of “civic, nonviolent activism.”