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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Monitoring MPs’ Human Rights and Free Speech Positions – November 2022

Thursday , 09 February 2023
Photo credit: Reuters

Background and Context


After one month of the presidential vacuum, political paralysis amongst the main political actors in Lebanon have deeply intensified amid public contestations between caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Members of Parliament (MPs). This prevented the cabinet from convening in order to address specific matters pertaining to medical and financial issues, as FPM representatives insisted that a caretaker cabinet should not be governing during a presidential vacuum, while Prime Minister Mikati insisted on convening to address socio-economic developments.

 

As highlighted in previous reports, more violations of freedom of press and speech have been committed amid a prolonged political stalemate. This ranged from filing lawsuits against journalists for criticizing FPM officials and escalated further to a violent clash during the Sar El-Wa2et TV show hosted on MTV.

 

In this report, we track down statements issued by the MPs during the month of November 2022 and analyze them in the aforementioned context. In that sense, the report aims to highlight the stances of different legislators on a specific law that aims at combating domestic violence and addressing personal status, which was submitted to the parliament, hoping to better understand how various players within the establishment have dealt with these matters.

 

Methodology

 

Similar to prior reports, and as planned to be for all reports after the completion of the 2022 parliamentary election, the pool under study is exhaustive, with all accessible social media platforms from the 128 parliamentarians researched and monitored on a regular basis throughout the month. For the month of November 2022, we monitored data for all 30 days of the month (November 1-30, 2022). The MPs examined range from representatives of historical and well-established sect-based parties, represented by strong parliamentary blocs, to those who spawned from “new” groups and movements emerging and developing in the past decade. The difference between the diverse movements relates to several indicators and factors: the utilization of sectarianism in party/individual discourse, party/individual history in the context of sectarian contestation during and after the civil war, and the demographic makeup of the group or informal circles revolving around the particular MP.

 

This diverse pool allows us to provide strong and abundant comparative indicators in the pursuit of understanding how and when the questions of free speech and human rights are tackled and discussed in specific contexts. In our analysis of the data, we primarily focus on the following highlights: 1) the overview of the data and its categories, 2) a comparison between traditional and/or sect-based MPs, and those who took part in alternative/newly established non-confessional organizations; and 3) discrepancies (if any) from within these two categories of MPs.

  

Data Display

 

In the process of gathering this data, we insist that the information provided cannot be considered comprehensive, but more or less should allow us to put forth possible hypotheses about how the concepts of free speech and democracy are being brought up in the public political conversation.

Fig. 1 - Distribution of data based on blocs


Fig. 2 - Distribution of data across MPs


Fig. 3 - Distribution of data across the type of statement, publication


Fig. 4 - Distribution of data across the type of statement

Table 1 - Distribution of data across group and theme



Fig. 5 - Distribution of data across MPs since their election (Monitoring commenced on June 1, 2022)

Fig. 6 - Distribution of data across political groups since the election of their respective MPs (monitoring commenced June 1st, 2022)

 

The chart displaying the distribution of data based on the type of movement, which was available in all reports published since the May 2022 parliamentary election, was excluded from November 2022. This is specifically due to the ambiguity of the labels “traditional” and “change” following the differences which have emerged within the Change Bloc itself.

 

Analysis and Key Indicators

 

Looking at the data, we can identify two clear incidents, one of which revolved around the statements condemning the acts of violence which erupted as FPM supporters clashed with other audience members within the “Sar Al-Wa’et” show on MTV.

 

Representatives from the Lebanese Forces-affiliated Strong Republic bloc were primarily behind these statements, reflecting the ongoing political rivalry between them and FPM, being the two largest Christian-majority parties in the country. Statements were also issued by other factions, such as the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and some Change MPs supportive of MP Michel Moawad’s presidential bid.

 

Given the above context, it is rather clear that condemnations of this sort of incident are simply a reflection of the polarizing tension between various factions in the country, raising doubts about whether these statements represent a true commitment to media freedom.

 

The second case revolves around statements issued on November 25, when a number of MPs announced their signature of a draft law that aims at upgrading penalties for crimes of sexual violence against women, girls, and minors prepared by the NGO Abaad. While this does not explicitly fall under the “free speech” domain, we believe that combatting gender-based violence is a key and integral component of creating a positive atmosphere further away from political violence.

As the law has not been submitted formally to the Parliament yet, we have not had confirmation on who officially signed it. While Abaad is still lobbying among parloamentary blocs for more signatures, only MP Samy Gemayel from the Kataeb Party and MP Paula Yacoubian from Tahalof Watani explicitly confirmed their signatures via a statement on their social media accounts. In addition to that, Abaad posted a statement thanking MPs Hadi Aboul Hosn, Bilal Abdullah, and Akram Chehayeb for signing the Law. Other MPs like Antoine Habchi, from the Lebanese Forces bloc, Raji Saad from the PSP, and FPM MP Farid Boustany released statements supporting Abaad’s campaign but didn’t mention anything related to the proposed law itself. 

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