Human Rights for Lebanon


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Cedarwatch abhors the emasculation of the freedom of the press and media generally represented in the judgment of the Publications Court handed down on 4 September 2002.

In what would otherwise be regarded as a bizarre ruling, but certainly the norm for Lebanon, the Media Court ordered that both radio and TV stations be shut down as they had violated Article 68 of the Parliamentary Election Law during the Metn by-election in June by running election advertising.

The order was both swift and severe, resulting in the immediate and final closure of the TV and radio stations operating as sister companies. The stations are owned by Christian Opposition MP Gabriel Murr.

The Lebanese government and its erstwhile spokesperson Prosecutor Adnan Addoum (aka "Doom and Gloom"), in statesmanlike fashion, flatly rejected a request that there be a temporary lifting of the order pending an appeal. He denied any such reprieve, indicating that the original order was what he termed, with his customary eloquence, a "preventive" ruling.

The Court's decision had the inevitable polarisation of opinion and political position but more to the point it highlighted and brought to the fore international concern in the form of diplomatic disdain from the United States and French Embassies. Whilst the French Embassy made no official announcement, there certainly was an expression of opinion from its ambassador, his Excellency, Phillippe Lecourtier, referring to a statement made by one of his country's spokespersons, Monsieur François Rivassot.

The international ire expressed by the US and French Embassies is both welcome and regrettably stands in stark contradistinction to other democracy-loving nations which have embassies within Beirut.

From within the Lebanese themselves there has been a mainstream and a groundswell of protest which is both healthy and indicative that Lebanese society will not subjugate itself in a supplicant-like fashion to the barbarous tyranny that Syria is exerting through the domestic institutions such as the judiciary and the office of the Prosecutor General.

The Lebanese judiciary has long been a laughing stock and is a well-known judicial joke throughout the world. They are but pathetic proselytes of the Syrian regime, acting through the Lebanese lackeys in the form of the President and the Prime Minister, respectively.

Notably, the Prime Minister, Mr Rafiq Hariri, has been silent over the issue - possibly due to a "large ingestion of clean air". In any event, mere matters of fundamental freedoms have never bothered the Lebanese Prime Minister, whose mind is occupied with mercantile matters.

The usual response was elicited from Prime Minister Lahoud, who could make no comment until he had spoken to his Syrian superior, to not only get the line that he should take but also to study his response before he could deliver it.

Mercifully, other socially minded bodies within the Lebanese community have not been as insipid or as indifferent as the political supremos.

Groups as diverse as the Communist Party, the Beirut Bar Association and the Qornet Shehwan, which represents the vanguard of the Christian populace, all voiced their opposition and denounced the Court ruling for the ridiculous spectacle that it was, both to the nation and to the world.

Religious leaders have not been silent in their condemnation. The Maronite Cardinal, Nasrallah Sfeir, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Beirut, Elias Audeh, have trenchantly condemned the closure of the stations as an abject denial of a fundamental freedom.

The Maronite Cardinal and his protest is legendary. It is hoped his Bishops throughout the world will be invigorated by his example, and they will not cower from the task of criticising the Syrian and Lebanese regimes.

A prominent Minister, Mr Marwan Hamadeh (Minister of the Displaced), denounced the ruling and went as far as to accuse the judges of "... obeying the orders of an invisible power". It is hoped that the Honourable Minister's vision will become more focused as the invisible power does not lack form or vestige but is safely and securely able to be seen in the City of Damascus, the seat of Syrian power.

What this confirms, and what Cedarwatch has always espoused and warned, is the presence of the Syrian Secret Service and the fact that they have infiltrated all government bodies and in particular the judicial branch of government, such that the state of infection is so drastic that there is no independence or any semblance of free thinking judges who will administer justice without fear or favour.

The attempt to disrupt the meeting called to protest the closure of the media outlets by the Press Federation of Lebanon was but an indication of the sponsorship of delinquent action to denounce political freedoms and in particular the freedom of the press.

Cedarwatch, when enquiring from associated organisations in search of information concerning the cause of the closure, was given an excuse that "the licence had expired" and hence the need to close the radio and TV station. The ridiculousness of such a position, as the official word of the Lebanese government, highlights the very sad state of affairs that has evolved in Lebanon today.

Coming at a time when the world is remembering the indiscriminate acts of terrorism that occurred at the World Trade Centre and elsewhere on the fateful day of 9/11, this "bold" display by the Lebanese Media Court is to be seen for what it is, namely a sophisticated Syrian response to let all and sundry know, in Lebanon, who is in control.

Weak-willed Ministers of the State, such as the Minister for Health, Mr Suleiman Franjieh, in attempting to allay the fears of the Press Federation by calling for calm and observance of the government's judicial process, was rightly denounced and ridiculed for the fool that he is and the Cabinet clown that he regularly fulfils as a role model in Lahoud's government.

Cedarwatch charges the Lebanese government with yet another crime against humanity and fundamental freedom, namely the freedom of speech and the press. As has been rightly observed by international commentators, if there is no free and open media in Lebanon, there can be no free and open government. To utilise the judiciary in the manner that has occurred to justify the closure of the radio and TV stations, RML and MTV respectively, exemplifies all three features of the basic infraction and violation of the rule of law:

(a) Lack of clear standards;
(b) An absence of independent control; and
(c) Procedural injustice.

There is no doubt that what has occurred is not a dramatic development but could have been easily forecast as long ago as 1994 and even before that, with the TAIF Accord coming into existence in 1991. Accompanying the denunciation of the freedom of the press and the media is also the oppression of political free will evident in the incarceration of Dr Samir Geagea and the exile of General Michel Aoun, as well as the other prominent political leaders. The recent assassination of Ramzi Irani and the detention of prominent Lebanese dissidents in the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, and their continued incarceration are but by-products of the same production line which, in effect, is for the sole purpose of the subjugation of the Lebanese will to become Syrian slaves.

Cedarwatch urges all free-minded and democracy-loving peoples, and especially those of Lebanese ancestry, to protest to their governments and to human rights bodies, such as Amnesty International, at the closure of the media outlets in question, in order that the repression will not take on a popular mandate.

You are urged to write and protest, peacefully, in such manner as you see fit and not to cease until the order is lifted and the radio and TV stations can operate yet again.

World Convenor for Cedarwatch
E-mail: sstanto1@bigpond.net.au
11 September 2002