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Jungle Republic: Lebanese detained for 'cussing officials' on Facebook Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Jungle Republic: Lebanese detained for 'cussing officials' on Facebook

In 2014, a web developer was jailed for insulting the president [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2017

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A Lebanese court issued an arrest warrant on Monday against activist Ahmad Amhaz on charges of defamation and insulting high ranking officials.
A man was charged by authorities in Lebanon over an 'insulting' Facebook post critical of public officials, including President Michel Aoun, local media reported.

Ahmad Amhaz appeared on Monday before a judge who issued a formal arrested warrant over a Facebook post, in which Amhaz criticised Lebanon's president, premier and speaker of parliament.

"There are three animals currently ruling the country: A crocodile… a donkey… and one that hasn't been revealed yet," the February Facebook post read with the hashtag #republicofthejungle.

Amhaz was subsequently detained on March 21.

Monday's judge charged him of defamation and insulting high-ranking officials, according to Lebanon's The Daily Star.

Ayman Mhanna, director of Skeyes, a press freedom NGO, said this was the first time someone had been detained before a trial. 

"We're very concerned," he told AFP, "What's also worse is the head of the bar association issued a gag order against the (defence) lawyer, who can't talk to the media."

Lebanese law criminalises libel and defamation of public officials, and those found guilty of insulting the president, flag or the national emblem face up to two years in jail.

Human Rights Watch slammed Amhaz's detention and arrest, calling it a part of a "troubling pattern" in a statement on Monday.

"The authorities should free Ahmad Amhaz and drop the charges against him, and parliament should repeal vague and overbroad laws that criminalise free speech," said HRW's deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih.

"Laws that allow imprisonment in response to criticism of individuals or government officials are incompatible with Lebanon's international obligations to protect freedom of expression," HRW said, adding that the terms "libel", "defamation" and "insult" were ill-defined in Lebanese law.

Lebanese authorities have periodically detained and even sentenced citizens for criticising public officials, but the accused are often pardoned or have their sentences commuted.

Last June, a prominent lawyer was arrested after accusing government officials of possible complicity in a sex trafficking ring.

And in 2014, a Lebanese web developer was sentenced to two months in jail for insulting then president Michel Sleiman on Twitter, although the sentence was eventually overturned.

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