Lebanon’s judiciary has begun cracking down on Lebanese media personalities for their critiques on Saudi Arabia; this comes in the wake of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
On Jan. 26, Lebanon’s Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun ordered a lawsuit against Hicham Haddad, a prominent Lebanese talk show host, for a joke he made at the expense of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
In a comedic sketch on his popular late-night show Lahon Wbas, Mr. Haddad reacted to a clip from another network which commented on the propensity of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to eat fast food. Mr. Haddad said that he didn’t care if the Crown Prince continued to eat fast food, but added that he should swear off “fast arrests, fast politics, … fast military strikes“.
Ghada Aoun, who indicted Mr. Haddad upon the request of General Prosecutor Samir Hammoud, referred the case to Lebanon’s Court of Publications. She is charging Mr. Haddad with defamation, which is punishable by up to one year in prison.
Less than a week later, public prosecutors also went after Lebanese media outlets, including the popular daily newspaper, ad-Diyar, and its Editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub, for his criticism of the Saudi Arabian royal family. In an article, Mr. Ayoub compared the Crown Prince to a controversial medieval Sunni Muslim theologian, ibn Taymiyyah, and described Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, as “working for the Israeli regime.”
The Beirut-based newspaper has reported that the prosecution has demanded that Mr. Ayoub pay a fine and spend one year in prison.
In December, Lebanese political talk show host Marcel Ghanem was also subpoenaed in a defamation case, after a pair of Saudi journalists on his program called the Lebanese president and parliamentary speaker “Terrorists.”
Although Justice Minister Salim Jreissati initially said that Mr. Ghanem was only being summoned to give his testimony and that no lawsuit would be filed against him, he was later charged with contempt and obstruction of justice.
إننا نطالب بالكفّ عن ملاحقة مارسيل غانم صحاب الكلمة الحرّة والرأي المستقل، مرآة الضمير الحيّ. تاره هم مع حرية التعبير، وتاره ممنوعه! عندما دافعنا عن حرّيّة التعبير لم تكن لفريق أو شخص، ولكن لأنها تخلّصنا من الأغلال التي تقيّد حركة التقدّم وتلجم فينا الاندفاعة المبدِعة والخلاّقه. pic.twitter.com/O5ZRYCHOwj
— Sergioarmani18 (@Sergioarmani181) February 2, 2018
While Lebanon’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression “within the limits established by law,” the Lebanese penal code also criminalizes libel and defamation against public officials and authorizes fines and prison sentences of up to one year in certain cases. This has been the basis for many of the lawsuits filed by public prosecutors in Lebanon.
Similar libel and slander laws exist in countries such as the United States and Germany, so they are not necessarily unusual– but using them to discourage citizens from insulting foreign leaders is.
[Title Photo: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, right, meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon in Riyadh. (New York Times Photo)]
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