Lebanon jails journalist for insulting minister in Facebook post

Lebanon jails journalist for insulting minister over treatment of Syria refugees
2 min read
30 June, 2018
A Lebanese court has sentenced a journalist to a jail term for insulting the country's foreign minister in a social media post that criticised his treatment of Syrian refugees.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Lebanon as 100 out of 180 countries [Getty]

A Lebanese court has sentenced a journalist to a jail term for insulting the country's foreign minister in a social media post that criticised his treatment of Syrian refugees.

The court in the city of Baabda handed down the four-month prison sentence to Fidaa Itani for "defaming" Gebran Bassil after the minister sued the reporter over his harsh criticism, local newspaper The Daily Star reported on Saturday.

Itani was also fined 10 million Lebanese pounds ($6,550).

Last June, Itani accused Bassil and other senior officials of negligence after four Syrian refugees died in army custody in the border town of Arsal.

The veteran reporter said the Lebanese army was arbitrarily arresting hundreds of refugees, forcing others to return to Syria and carrying out "random killings".

He also referenced a derogatory Arabic-language expression when speaking about Bassil.

Arsal hosts some 36,000 displaced Syrians according to the United Nations refugee agency, many of them from Syrian villages just across the border.

In 2014, jihadists overran the border town and clashed with Lebanese security forces, kidnapping 30 of them and subsequently killing four.

News of Itani's sentence has been criticised by rights activists and social media users.

"Another slap in the face to Lebanon's 'freedom of speech'," said Amnesty International researcher Kareem Chehayeb.

In May, Lebanese intelligence service agents arrested a journalist covering living conditions of refugees in Arsal. They released him a week later.

Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked Lebanon as 100 out of 180 countries on their 2018 World Press Freedom Index.