The Lebanese judiciary referred on Friday the case against the Nidaa al-Watan newspaper to the Press Offenses Court.
Judge Ziad Abu Haidar had charged the daily, its editor-in-chief Beshara Charbel and managing director George Berbary with insulting the president over a recent headline, “New ambassadors in Baabda… Welcome to the Khamenei republic.”
The case had sparked uproar in Lebanon with supporters criticizing the judiciary for infringing on freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.
The editors syndicate had demanded that the case be referred to the Press Offenses Court because it has jurisdiction over such affairs.
The syndicate hailed the judiciary for complying with its demand, adding that relations between the press, media and judiciary must be based on mutual respect in service of the nation.
Lawyer and MP Butros Harb, who represented Nidaa al-Watan, said that the defendants were critical of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s stances, not the president. A lawyer, Harb said he volunteers to defend the newspaper as part of his “national and professional duty.”
Lebanon is concerned about Hezbollah’s link to Iran.
The recent events brought back to the mind of the Lebanese a speech by Nasrallah, when he put himself at the disposal of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and stressed that any military strike against Iran “will ignite the whole region and annihilate countries and peoples.”
Nidaa al-Watan and other media outlets were critical of Nasrallah for pledging allegiance to Khamanei and president Michel Aoun’s silence over the issue.
Many Lebanese leaders also criticised Nasrallah’s stand and Aoun’s silence over the issue .
A sit-in in solidarity with the Charbel and Berbary was held in front of the Justice Palace.
Ahead of the hearing, head of the editor’s syndicate Joseph al-Qusaibi met with General Prosecutor Ghassan Ouweidat and Qabalan to request that the case be handled by the Press Offenses Court because it has jurisdiction over such affairs.
Speaking in front of the Justice Palace, Charbel declared: “We have nothing to justify. Our right to freedom of expression is safeguarded by the constitution. This is a right granted to us by law and we are practicing it.”
“We came here today to underscore our right to freedom of expression,” he added.
“We want the decision of war and peace to be in the hands of the state. We did not attack the presidency,” he continued.
Aoun has been a close ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah since 2006 , even though he was very critical of the militant group when he was in exile in France . He returned to Lebanon after the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon.
Beshara Charbel said he was aware that the “mission” he chose to defend the sovereignty of the State would have ramifications, “but we did not know the state has little patience to prompt summons to the criminal investigations bureau.”
In reference to the remarks made by Hezbollah leader , he added: “We said it is Khamenei’s republic and we only repeated explicit statements declaring that any aggression against Iran would rattle the region and bring Lebanon into war.”
Earlier in September and marking the last day of the Shiite Ashoura commemorations, Nasrallah voiced support for Iran in its dispute with the United States.
He said any war against Iran “will ignite the region and destroy countries and peoples. It will be a war against the entire axis of resistance,” and that Hezbollah is part of the axis of resistance.
On Khameni he said: “Our imam, leader, master and Hussein in this era is Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei. He is the leader of the axis of resistance and Iran is the heart and main center of the axis.”
Asharq al Awsat/YL