Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutes Press for Reporting

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Together for the sake of freedom

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From left to right: MP Hassan Fadlallah, Assafir Editor-in-Chief Talal Salman, Al-Akhbar Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Amin, and owner of Al-Jadeed TV Tahseen Khayat. They were part of the gathering at the Press Syndicate building on April 28, 2014 to denounce the STL’s charges against Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, and Karma Khayat of Al-Jadeed TV. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

A lot of criticism can be directed at Ramzi Jreij, the current Lebanese minister of information. His short time at the ministry does not allow us yet to pass a fair judgement on how his excellency is dealing with this arduous profession that bears the sins of Lebanon’s absurd political life. But the signs so far are not encouraging.

Speaking of absurdity, Jreij – the former chairperson of the Beirut Bar Association – would have felt more comfortable at another ministry, such as the Ministry of Justice. Alas, the magical concoctions and surrealistic formulas that govern Lebanese politics willed it otherwise.

Therefore, until further notice, we can judge his performance based on his ambitious program, namely “transforming the Ministry of Information to the Ministry of Freedoms.” But, as everyone knows, it is not by wishful thinking that “freedoms” are gained.

In the meantime, we discovered that the minister has a sense of humor and excels at the art of irony. He chose a strange time to convey to the public his very own philosophy about freedoms. Jreij did not get a chance to participate personally in the solidarity conference with Al-Jadeed TV and Al-Akhbar newspaper organized by Assafir’s Editor-in-Chief Talal Salman, which was met with a wide and reassuring response on the national level. Instead, Jreij sent a statement that was read by the head of the Editors’ Syndicate, Elias Aoun.

The gist of the message, which addressed the journalists gathered yesterday at the Press Syndicate in defense of national sovereignty and public freedoms in Lebanon and against the bulldozer of international repression and intimidation of the media, was “I am with freedoms, but… not this time!” The statement was interrupted by the boos of the audience, dealing a moral blow to the minister that Lebanon will remember for a long time.

After a nice little introduction that emphasized his good intentions regarding freedoms, our minister advised the two journalists charged by the international court with contempt and obstruction of justice, Ibrahim al-Amin and Karma Khayat, to comply with the international tribunal “because it is the only way to prove their innocence.” How is that possible when he insists that they are not facing accusations? In other words, the minister told the journalists gathered at the syndicate, there is no need for you to be present here, go back to your homes, the Lebanese state has no sovereignty and no say in the presence of the international tribunal. This, however, is inaccurate considering Rule 178 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

 

According to the minister, the only freedom available is the freedom to comply with the court. Only this tribunal knows Lebanon’s interests and decides where freedom of the press begins and where it ends. It is the only source of justice and the biggest guarantee for freedom of the press in Lebanon. This is the same court that, as attorney Rashad Salameh reminded us, amends the law every time the political winds change direction to suit a new agenda. Salameh is surprised today that this odd case would pit justice against freedom. 

Jreij prefers justice, even if it is at the expense of freedoms and constitutional sovereignty. Perhaps the minister does not know the case well enough, as he suggested to the media delegation that met him yesterday. Or perhaps he is inspired by certain experiments in contemporary art that blur the border between what is real and what is imagined.

There is one more explanation. Jreij’s position is politically motivated, in the narrow sense of the word, and he, God forbid – like the prophet of liberalism who decreed on his Facebook page what should and should not be considered “freedom,” or the perpetrators of malicious and gloating articles on some cheap sites – is settling scores with his political adversaries while he impatiently waits for the hour of revenge against them and could not care less about press freedoms. However, let us wait for his response to the demands of the body that emerged from the solidarity conference before we pass our final judgement.

No ladies and gentlemen, this is not the time for political differences or even professional competition. This is a challenge for all the Lebanese media outlets and all Lebanese people. This is the test that will truly reveal who cares about press freedoms and who does not.

We are proud, as journalists, to see among those standing in solidarity with Al-Jadeed and Al-Akhbar yesterday at the Press Syndicate media figures, civil society and human rights activists that we might differ with. Pierre al-Daher, CEO of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) TV pointed out that many in the media failed to show up as though he is calling on everyone to join in and stand together in defense of our freedom and our profession regardless of our differences.

“It is an opportunity to unite the Lebanese people by standing in solidarity with press freedom,” said head of the Press Syndicate Mohammed Baalbaki. It is a great opportunity for the Lebanese media today to prove to itself and to the public that it is worthy of these values and of the reputation that Beirut still has as the capital of Arab media and a home for freedom.

You can follow Pierre Abi Saab on Twitter: @PierreABISAAB