Posts Tagged ‘ Lebanon ’

Lebanon’s shrinking freedom of expression

Sunday 29/07/2018

BEIRUT – More than seven activists have recently been summoned by Lebanese intelligence services because they posted social media comments critical of pro-Syrian and Iranian-Lebanese politicians and parties. In the past two years, human rights groups have reported a threefold increase in the arrest, prosecution and questioning of activists and journalists.

The Lebanese penal code punishes libel and defamation of officials, a justification that appears to be increasingly deployed by security officials to question and prosecute activists or harass disgruntled citizens venting their frustration on social media.

Rawane Khatib and Khaled Abbouchi were summoned July 24 by the Lebanese office for cybercrime. They were accused of publicly criticizing Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

In itself, that’s notable. However, it falls within the context of a wider security crackdown by Lebanese intelligence services, targeting people denouncing the actions of specific parties, activists say.

“Arrests and summoning (for interview) targets activists or journalists critical for the most part of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, followed by President Aoun and Hezbollah,” said Widad Jarbouh, a researcher at the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom at the Samir Kassir Foundation.

Mohammad Awwad, an activist known for articles disparaging Hezbollah, was arrested by the Lebanese General Security. He was released after he signed a document forbidding him from criticizing the three main political positions in Lebanon — the president, prime minister and the parliamentary speaker — as well as various religious figures.

Also in July, Elie el-Khoury, 25, was summoned by Lebanon’s cybercrimes bureau for questioning. Khoury had complained about the poor level of public services in Lebanon and accused Aoun of turning the country into his “family home.”

When Khoury’s lawyer intervened, the cybercrime bureau rescinded its request without explanation, Lebanese website Naharnet said.

Journalist Fidaa Itani was sentenced in absentia to four months in prison and fined 10 million Lebanese pounds ($6,550). Itani had called out Bassil on Facebook over his alleged racist policies towards Lebanon’s Syrian refugees.

The journalist, who is also a Hezbollah opponent, uncovered numerous cases of potential corruption in which Bassil was implicated.

Other infamous cases targeting activists and journalists include the prosecution of researcher Hanin Ghaddar affiliated with the Washington Institute. In April, after intense lobbying from both local political figures and the US Embassy, sources close to the matter said, the Military Tribunal reversed its verdict, referring the case back to the Military Prosecution.

The tribunal’s decision came after Ghaddar’s lawyer filed an objection to the court’s decision to sentence her client in absentia to six months in prison for comments critical of the Lebanese Army. A vocal critic of Hezbollah, Ghaddar accused the army of distinguishing between Sunni and Shia militants, suggesting it was more tolerating of the latter.

That same month, First Investigative Judge Ghassan Oueidat issued an arrest warrant for journalist Maria Maalouf for slandering Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

However, elsewhere, Jarbouh noted, other segments of the population, typically those associated with parties aligned to Iran and Syria who threaten and attack activists remain untouched. “As an example, individuals who voiced death and rape threats against an American University student who was filmed protesting against the Syrian regime offensive on Aleppo two years ago were never summoned by authorities,” he said.

In May, another critic of Hezbollah, Ali al-Amin, who was running as an independent in parliamentary elections against the organization, was severely beaten. Amin is a Shia journalist and director of the news website “Al Janoubia” (“The South”). The perpetrators of the crime are yet to be identified.

“To date, most of the summons and arrests are the work of the office for cybercrime, the general security and the Lebanese army intelligence,” says Jarbouh.

SKeyes estimates that, over the past two years, arrests targeting activists and journalists increased from 10 to 30 per year. The rise in power of pro-Iran and pro-Syria figures in parliamentary elections appears to have translated into a shrinking of freedom of expression and repressive measures in Lebanon.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: https://www.middle-east-online.com/en/lebanon%E2%80%99s-shrinking-freedom-expression.

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Lebanon holds first elections in 9 years

May 06, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s polling stations opened Sunday for the first parliamentary elections in nine years, with people lining up early in the morning to take part in a vote that is fiercely contested between rival groups backed by regional and international powers.

Sunday’s vote is taking place amid tight security, with army and police forces deployed near polling stations and on major intersections. Electoral campaigns have been tense as each group has mobilized its supporters, with fist fights and shootings occurring in several areas in recent weeks.

The main race is between a Western-backed coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. The vote also reflects regional tensions between Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back the rival groups.

The vote is the first since Syria’s war broke out in 2011. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad’s forces, a move that has been harshly criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians who see the group as pulling the country into regional conflicts.

The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria’s war. Lebanese who support opposing sides in the war have clashed on a number of occasions, and Sunni extremists have carried out several bombings. The war next door driven more than a million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, straining the country’s economy and infrastructure.

There are about 3.6 million eligible voters, and early results are expected after polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT). Some 586 candidates, including 86 women, are running for the 128-seat parliament, which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

In the past, the winning list took all the seats in the electoral district. Hezbollah and its allies are likely to add more seats, while Hariri is likely to lose several. Some of his Sunni supporters see him as being too soft on Hezbollah, and the billionaire businessman has also faced criticism after laying off scores of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Still, Hariri will most likely be named to form a national unity Cabinet after the vote. Rival sides can hardly govern effectively without each other, and are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which includes Hezbollah.

The vote comes a week after Lebanese living oversees voted in 39 countries around the world for the first time ever.

Lebanese expats vote in parliamentary elections

April 29, 2018

SAO PAULO (AP) — Lebanese expatriates began voting Sunday in the first parliamentary elections held by the tiny Arab country in nine years The current legislature has extended its term several times, citing security threats linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon’s political system distributes power among the country’s different religious communities, and the main parties are led by political dynasties that fought one another during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Sunday’s vote in 33 countries comes two days after thousands of Lebanese voted in six Arab countries. The vote marks the first time that Lebanese are allowed to vote abroad. Millions of Lebanese live abroad, but Lebanon’s state-run news agency says the number of registered voters is 82,970. The voting inside Lebanon will be held next Sunday.

Australia has the largest number of registered voters, with about 12,000, followed by Canada with 11,438 and the United States with about 10,000. In Brazil, home to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Lebanese descent, many were casting their ballots in Latin America’s most populous nation.

“Today’s voting is very important because for the first time we will have a voice in Lebanese affairs,” said Leila Smidi a 30-year-old mother of four who has been living in Brazil for 11 years. She spoke shortly after casting her ballot at Lebanon’s consulate in Sao Paulo.

About 1,500 Lebanese expats in Brazil are expected to vote. Lebanese immigrants and their descendants today form a community estimated at about 7 million – larger than Lebanon’s population of about 4.5 million. Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Brazil in the late 19th century, fleeing the Turkish-Ottoman empire that ruled much of the Middle East.

Accomplished merchants, many settled in Sao Paulo — Brazil’s biggest city — and earned a living as traveling salesmen selling textiles and clothes and opening new markets. Eventually they opened their own textile and clothing shops and factories.

Today, many of their descendants are prominent in the arts, politics, business, communications and medicine. The best known Brazilian politicians of Arab descent are President Michel Temer, Paulo Maluf, who twice served as mayor of Sao Paulo and once as governor of Sao Paulo state, and former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s business capital, and one of its leading businessmen is Paulo Antonio Skaf, president of the powerful Sao Paulo State Federation of Industries and the son of Lebanese immigrants.

Among Brazil’s brightest literary stars is Milton Hatoum, the Lebanese-descended author of the acclaimed novel “The Tree of Seventh Heaven.” Also a descendent of Lebanese immigrants, film director and commentator Arnaldo Jabor offers his strong opinions on just about everything daily on the Globo radio and TV network.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

Lebanon’s 128-member parliament is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then. The main competition will be between two coalitions, one that is led by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the other by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally who holds Saudi citizenship and is a critic of Tehran.

Despite the rivalry between Hariri’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, both are part of the national unity government and will most likely be represented in the Cabinet formed after next week’s vote.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

Lebanon calls for Turkey’s support for boosting security, infrastructure

February 1, 2018

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, yesterday called on the Turkish government to support Lebanon on enhancing its security and to invest in the country’s infrastructure renovation.

“I’ve asked the Turkish government to support Lebanon in its two national priorities, including enhancing the capabilities of the army and the security forces, and developing the country’ infrastructure sector,” Hariri said on Twitter.

Hariri noted that he had asked the Ankara “to help in encouraging the country’s private sector to participate in the government’s investment plan.”

“We [Turkish government] expect the private sector to fund a third of our investment plan,” he added.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, recently announced that Turkey was willing to boost bilateral relations with Lebanon on a number of issues, a move that Hariri welcomed.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-lebanon-calls-for-turkeys-support-for-boosting-security-infrastructure/.

Lieberman threatens ground invasion in Lebanon

February 1, 2018

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to carry out ground invasion in Lebanon and push Beirut residents to live in shelters, Arab48 reported yesterday.

During a speech at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Lieberman said: “Maneuvering is not a goal in itself. The goal is to end the war.”

“No one is looking for adventures, but if we have no choice the goal is to end [the fighting] as quickly and as unequivocally as possible,” he added. “Regrettably, what we have in all the conflicts in the Middle East is that without soldiers on the ground it does not come to an end.”

“Such operations demand great effort and unfortunately casualties too. All options are open and I and not enslaved to any viewpoint,” he added. “We must prepare for maneuvering on the ground too, even if we do not use it.”

“We will do so with full strength. We must not take one step forward and one step backward. We will move forward as fast as possible,” said Lieberman.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-lieberman-threatens-ground-invasion-in-lebanon/.

Lebanon Investigates Visit of Iraqi Militia Leader to the South

Sunday, 10 December, 2017

The appearance of the head of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia during a visit to Lebanon’s border with Israel, accompanied by Hezbollah fighters, sparked a wave of anger, especially as it came shortly after the government announced the adoption of a policy to dissociate the country from external conflicts.

In a video released on Saturday, Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, declared his readiness “to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause”, just four days after the Lebanese political parties announced the adoption of the policy of “dissociation” from external and regional conflicts.

The video showed an unidentified commander, presumably from Hezbollah, gesturing toward military outposts located along the borders, while Khazali was talking to another person through a wireless device, telling him: “ I am now with the brothers in Hezbollah in the area of Kfarkila, which is a few meters away from occupied Palestine; we declare the full readiness to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered the security apparatus to conduct the necessary investigations into the presence of the Iraqi leader on the Lebanese territories, which he said violated the Lebanese laws.

Presidential sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that President Michel Aoun has requested further information about the video, while military sources denied that Khazali has entered the Lebanese territories in a legitimate way.

“The entry of any foreigner to this border area requires a permit from the Lebanese Army, which did not happen,” the sources said, stressing that Khazali has entered the area illegaly.

A statement issued by the premier’s office said: “Hariri contacted the concerned military and security officials to conduct the necessary investigations and take measures to prevent any person or party from carrying out any military activity on the Lebanese territory, and to thwart any illegal act as shown in the video.”

The Lebanese prime minister also ordered that Khazali would be banned from entering Lebanon again, the statement added.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1108901/lebanon-investigates-visit-iraqi-militia-leader-south.

Hariri’s exit sparks fears of fresh war in Lebanon

2017-11-05

BEIRUT – Saad Hariri’s resignation from Lebanon’s premiership has raised fears that regional tensions were about to escalate and that the small country would once again pay a heavy price.

Analysts said the Saudi-backed Sunni politician’s move on Saturday to step down from the helm less than a year after forming a government was more than just the latest hiccup in Lebanon’s notoriously dysfunctional politics.

“It’s a dangerous decision whose consequences will be heavier than what Lebanon can bear,” Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said.

Hariri announced his resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilizing the entire region.

Hezbollah is part of the government, but the clout of a group whose military arsenal outstrips that of Lebanon’s own armed forces is far greater than its share of cabinet posts.

For years now, Lebanon has been deeply divided between a camp dominated by the Shiite Tehran-backed Hezbollah and a Saudi-supported movement led by Hariri.

“Hariri has started a cold war that could escalate into a civil war, bearing in mind that Hezbollah is unmatched in Lebanon on the military level,” Khashan said.

The rift in Lebanon’s political class led to the assassination in 2005 of Hariri’s father Rafik, an immensely influential tycoon who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia.

– Iran-Saudi flare-up –

Investigations pointed to the responsibility of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Other political assassinations in the anti-Hezbollah camp ensued, then a month-long war between the powerful militia and neighboring Israel, as well as violent internal clashes that harked back to the dark days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Twelve years on, Lebanese politics remain just as toxically sectarian and the threat of another flare-up very real. Hariri even said on Saturday he feared going the way of his father.

His resignation came in a context of high tension between Saudi Arabia, once the region’s powerhouse, and Iran, which has played an increasingly prominent political and military role in the region recently.

On Friday, Hariri met Iran’s most seasoned diplomat, Ali Akbar Velayati, before flying to Saudi Arabia and resigning from there via a Saudi-funded television network.

“The timing and venue of the resignation are surprising… but not the resignation itself,” said Fadia Kiwane, political science professor at Beirut’s Saint Joseph University.

“The situation is developing rapidly and we’re at a turning point… there could be a deadly clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” she said.

“In that event, the two main camps in Lebanon will clash too.”

Over the past few weeks, a Saudi minister, Thamer al-Sabhan, has unleashed virulent attacks against Hezbollah on social media.

– New war with Israel? –

“The terrorist party should be punished… and confronted by force,” he wrote last month.

Other than just an internal conflict, analysts also do not rule out an external attack on Hezbollah, be it by Saudi Arabia directly or by the Shiite militia’s arch-foe Israel.

“Hariri is saying ‘there is no government any more, Hezbollah is not part of it’… and he is thus legitimizing any military strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Khashan said.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating war in 2006, and Israeli politicians have ramped up the rhetoric lately, warning that its military was prepared for war with Lebanon.

Any new war damaging key infrastructure would have a disastrous impact on a country already weakened by ballooning debt, corruption and the demographic pressure from a massive influx of Syrian refugees.

As soon as the news of Hariri’s resignation broke, many Lebanese took to social media to voice their fears of a return to violence.

“After Hariri’s resignation, a war will be launched against Lebanon,” wrote one of them, Ali Hammoud, on Twitter.

On the streets of Beirut, even those who had little sympathy for Hariri expressed concern.

“We’re headed for the worst,” said one shop owner.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85776.

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