SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Journalist Amer Chibani deletes tweet after ISF summons

Thursday , 03 October 2019
A local journalist has removed a tweet in which he said that a local bank branch was not dispensing dollars, after he was summoned to appear before the Cybercrimes Bureau. Amer Chibani, who worked as a journalist with Future TV and now works on the Al Mustaqbal news site, told The Daily Star that he had gone to a branch of SGBL bank Tuesday morning to withdraw cash for a $600 car payment. Although his account is in dollars, he said, he was told that there was no U.S. currency available for withdrawal.
Frustrated, he posted on Twitter, “There’s not a dollar at SGBL bank, even at the counter.”
Later that day, Chibani said, an attorney for the bank contacted him and demanded that he remove the post. He refused.
Then, he said, he received a call from the Cybercrimes Bureau asking him to come to its office for questioning the following day.
Chibani said he went to the bureau Wednesday and investigators asked him a number of questions about the tweet, including whether anyone had directed him to write it.
He said he told them no one had. “I told them, this tweet is very personal and I am writing about the personal reality of my own bank account. I’m not threatening the financial stability [of the country].”
However, in the end, he said he agreed to delete the tweet - without, however, signing any pledge. As of Wednesday afternoon, the post had been removed.
SGBL representatives could not be reached for comment.
An Internal Security Forces source said the Cybercrimes Bureau had opened the investigation after a complaint from the bank. The source confirmed that Chibani had agreed to take the tweet down but had not signed a pledge, and that Chibani had been released after providing documentation of his place of residence. The source said the case was ongoing.
The incident came at a time of rising anxiety about the health of the Lebanese pound, although the market has been somewhat calmed by the Central Bank’s move to organize funding for imports of fuel, wheat and medications.
A day before Chibani’s tweet, the office of President Michel Aoun released a statement pointing out that there are sections in Lebanon’s criminal code allowing for the prosecution of those who publish material that would threaten the stability of the economy or the currency.
A number of individuals and organizations sprang to Chibani’s defense. The Samir Kassir Eyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom posted on Twitter, “Has publishing information about people’s personal experiences with banks and criticism of the economic situation become a reason for summons?”
Jad Shahrour, communications officer at Samir Kassir foundation told The Daily Star that the center had documented 260 cases of journalists, activists and artists who had been detained, investigated or censored by authorities in less than three years. But, he said, Chibani’s case was the first the center had seen related to a statement about the economic or financial situation.
Jad Chaaban, a professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, who also criticized the move on Twitter, told The Daily Star that the investigation of Chibani was “counterproductive.”
“If you’re concerned about rumors and the spread of rumors, you should counter rumors with fact,” he said. “When you have issues, you first try to resolve them with clear steps, and if you can’t resolve them at least you communicate about them and express to the public some details, some road map, but you absolutely can’t just imprison people or even threaten them and intimidate them just because they have concerns or they have a different point of view.”

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