Spate of Free Speech Prosecutions
A spate of prosecutions since the outbreak of nationwide protests on October 17, 2019 against activists and journalists critical of government policies and corruption is threatening free speech and opinion in Lebanon.
Security agencies called in at least 29 people for interrogation concerning free speech charges, including insult and defamation, between October 17, 2019 and March 6, 2020. Insult and defamation are criminal offenses in Lebanon, with prison terms of up to three years. Media also reported that at least 20 people, including at least 18 children, were briefly detained and interrogated in 2 separate incidents for tearing down posters of politicians and the president.
“The state is using these repressive tactics to intimidate us into stopping our protest activities,” Jaber told Human Rights Watch. “But after October 17 is not the same as before October 17…. We won’t let them take the dream from us.”
Laws that allow imprisonment over peaceful criticism of individuals or government officials are incompatible with Lebanon’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.
In November, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing a year-long investigation into attacks on freedom of expression in Lebanon. The investigation found that in dozens of cases between 2015 and 2019, public officials and security forces used criminal defamation and insult laws to retaliate against and silence people who criticized public officials or government policies, resulting in a chilling effect on free speech.