SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Activist released after arrest for criticizing Bassil adviser

Thursday , 27 February 2020
Activist Charbel Khoury was released Monday evening after Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun ordered his arrest following his refusal to delete a tweet critical of an adviser to former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Khoury was released when the adviser, economist Charbel Cordahi, withdrew his complaint amid widespread outrage from protesters.

“I filed a complaint, and I will ask my lawyer to drop it, because this is neither my request nor my wish,” Cordahi wrote on Twitter. “What I seek is that we all treat each other with civility without insults. My page and door are open to all discussions.”

The Cybercrimes Bureau ordered Khoury to appear for interrogation over a tweet that he posted mocking Cordahi, Jad Shahrour from the Samir Kassir Center for Media and Cultural Freedom told The Daily Star.

During the interrogation, police demanded that Khoury sign a pledge saying he would refrain from further criticism, which Khoury refused to do.

"[Signing a pledge] is not mentioned in the Penal Code at all... Ghada Aoun's order is not legal," Shahrour said. "This victory shows how the judiciary is corrupt."

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Cybercrimes Bureau Monday afternoon in support of Khoury.

Since Lebanon’s widespread demonstrations began on Oct. 17, the number of people detained or arrested for online political expression has increased, according to a report released last month by the Beirut-based Samir Kassir Center. Over 75 journalists and activists have been ordered to appear before the Cybercrimes Bureau.

Lebanon’s current press freedom laws only protect print media, meaning that cases which involve online platforms or social media are dealt with under criminal law. Local media advocacy groups like Maharat and the Samir Kassir Center have repeatedly urged politicians to update the country's legislation, expanding protections for freedom of expression online.

In November, Human Rights Watch released a report which found that political elites and religious figures have repeatedly invoked criminal insult and defamation laws against critics of corruption. Convictions under these laws can lead to penalties that include fines and up to three years in prison.

“This battle of freedoms needs to continue, and we need to all stand by each other,” Khoury’s brother told the Alternative Journalists Syndicate early Monday afternoon, following a visit to his brother at the bureau.

Journalist Dima Sadek and blogger Gino Raidy were also scheduled to appear before the Cybercrimes Bureau Monday, but their appointments were postponed indefinitely.

“Intimidation and persecution of journalists for expressing their opinion is often a sign that they touch upon something important. Efforts to silence free speech by administrative measures and harassment will never succeed and usually backfire, notably in times of crisis,” United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis wrote on Twitter Monday.

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