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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Dima Sadek and the Shrinking Space: As Large as a Prison Cell

Wednesday , 13 September 2023
Design: Mahmoud Younis

On July 10, 2023, Judge Rosine Hojeili handed journalist Dima Sadek a one-year prison sentence in response to a lawsuit filed against her by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), represented by its president, MP Gebran Bassil. The charges against her include incitement of strife, libel, and defamation. This development – a prison sentence for a tweet – raises grave concerns and poses a threat to journalistic freedom.

The lawsuit stems from a tweet posted by Sadek on February 7, 2020, in which she referred to the FPM as “Nazi.” This came after an alleged violent incident involving FPM supporters and a young man named Zakaria al-Masry under the Fouad Chehab bridge in Jounieh. Sadek’s tweet read, “A new attack by the Nazi movement. They hit him on the head and threw him into the sewers, telling him that Aoun is a crown on top of your head and of Tripoli’s.” Less than an hour after tweeting this message, Sadek deleted the post, expressing doubts as to the authenticity of the incident.

This occurred amid divisive sectarian and regional tensions, pitting the FPM against participants in the October 17, 2019 uprising.

It is worth noting that the Press Law prohibits the imprisonment of journalists on such grounds. However, the plaintiff bypassed this protection by resorting to the Criminal Court. The FPM argued that the offense was not published in a printed medium and that the electronic publication – in this case a tweet – does not fall under Sadek’s journalistic work. Sadek intends to appeal the ruling with the assistance of her attorney, Diala Shehadeh.

SKF monitored the social media reactions in Lebanon regarding this matter. The goal is to assess the stance of Lebanese public opinion on key freedom of expression debates. To ensure accuracy and efficiency in the monitoring process, SKF has partnered with a data service provider, Reputell, which has access to large amounts of data and the software to sort through it for relevant content. This approach ensures a safer understanding of whether the online discourse around the case study was accurately captured and how it played out. It is important to clarify that this study does not aim to comprehensively cover the entire digital landscape. Instead, it focuses on highlighting prominent participants, the platforms used, and potential patterns in a true-to-life manner. This report is the fifth in a series that employs such technology to provide a clearer understanding of discussions within the Lebanese online sphere about controversial freedom of expression topics.

The monitoring period for this study is from July 11 to 24, 2023.

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