Open Letter to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri
Human Rights Watch
4 July 1997

His Excellency Rafiq Hariri
c/o Embassy of Lebanon
2560 28th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008

Your Excellency,
We are writing to add our voices to those from around the world who are concerned about upholding human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, in this case related to the situation of Lebanese lawyer Dr Muhamad Mugraby.

Since 1994 your government has been attempting to bring charges against Dr Mugraby arising from his professional duties as a lawyer. The Lebanese Government has sought permission from the Council of the Beirut Bar to prosecute Dr Mugraby three times and each time has been rejected. These requests have now been heard by a Beirut Court of Appeals, and a ruling is scheduled for 7 July.

Under Lebanese law, the council of the Bar Association has the right to bar prosecution of a member if the charges arise from their professional practice. The government has, however, the right to appeal the council's decision before the Beirut Court of Appeal. No prosecution may proceed unless permitted by the Bar Association or by the Court of Appeal.

In addition to being connected with his work of defending clients, all three of the charges which your government is attempting to bring against Dr Mugraby concern cases that have human rights implications. Thus we are very concerned that the Lebanese Government may be attempting to harass and intimidate Dr Mugraby on the basis of his professional activities and his involvement in the defence of human rights.

We are also concerned that the hearing before the Court of Appeal was seriously flawed. Dr Mugraby was not informed ahead of time of the precise allegations made against him, and in one of the cases the judge refused to enter Dr Mugraby's arguments in the court record.

One of the charges your government is attempting to bring against Dr Mugraby concerns a communication with Amnesty International. A letter was sent by Dr Mugraby to Amnesty International which related to the violation of the human rights of several of Dr Mugraby's clients, including violations of the right to fair trial, as guaranteed by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Lebanon is a state party. This faxed letter is now being used to form the basis of one of charges being brought against Dr Mugraby, on the ground that the contents of the letter were defamatory to the Lebanese Government, its security services and the courts.

Lawyers performing professional duties in the defence of their clients should not be liable to harassment, intimidation and the prospect of being charged with a criminal offence following communication with a human rights organization regarding human rights concerns. It is a cause for great concern to learn that legitimate communications with a human rights organization may be regarded as a criminal offence under any guise. The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by consensus by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders on 7 September 1990, which were welcomed by the UN General assembly on 14 December 1990, states:

Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference... and shall not suffer... prosecution... for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics. (Principle 16)
Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities. (Principle 17)
Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions. (Principle 18)

Further, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

We would greatly appreciate receiving your assurances that Dr Mugraby be allowed to practise his profession without hindrance, and that any form of harassment and intimidation against him, including any charges brought in violation of international standards, will cease.
We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Pierre San, Secretary General, Amnesty International
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Patrick Baudouin, President, International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)
Neil Hicks, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Kenneth Roth is the executive director and Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board.

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