Lebanese demonstrators erect a giant fist a protest emblem that was torched by an unknown culprit in the early hours of the morning in Beirut’s Martyrs Square during an independence day rally more than a month into unprecedented nation wide rallies against the ruling elite (Footage by AFPTV via Getty Images)

The Lebanese authorities must immediately stop exploiting flawed defamation laws used to harass activists and journalists, those associated with the October protest movement, Amnesty International said in a detailed statement issued today.

Since 17 October 2019, the organization reviewed 75 cases and found that a range of security and military agencies – none of which are mandated to look into issues of free speech – had summoned and interrogated dozens of individuals, some repeatedly, in relation to social media posts criticizing the authorities.

The organization is urging the Lebanese parliament to swiftly amend vague and overly broad laws on defamation, insult, libel, slander, blasphemy and incitement and bring them in line with international standards.

“The Lebanese authorities, including the security and military institutions, must immediately stop harassing journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of speech. Individuals who were visible during the October protest movement have been relentlessly summoned and questioned in what is clearly a pattern of harassment,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“Lebanon’s vague and overly broad defamation laws fail to meet international standards and unduly restrict people’s right to exercise their freedom of expression. Even speech that is considered offensive is protected under the right to freedom of expression. Laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals, should be treated as a matter for civil litigation.”

Under international law, Lebanon must respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, even if such expression risks shocking, offending or disturbing. The pattern of charging persons for criminal defamation, compounded by then failing to proceed to trial expeditiously, can have a chilling effect that may unduly restrict the exercise of freedom of expression of the person concerned and others, and is a violation of the right to exercise freedom of expression.

Amnesty International opposes laws prohibiting insult or disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions or flags or symbols (such as lèse majesté and desacato laws).


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