Beirut, August 24, 2022 – The Lebanese authorities must immediately investigate the threatening messages received by journalist Mohamad Barakat and Al-Akhbar newspaper, and ensure that members of the press can work without fear of harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Since August 13, Barakat, editor-in-chief of the private news site Asas Media, has received threats following an interview he gave to the television channel Al-Jadeed TV in which he criticized a recent speech by Hasan Nasrallah, secretary general of the Hezbollah Shiite political party and militant group, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
After the interview, an anonymous Hezbollah-friendly Twitter account accused Barakat of incitement to sedition; following this tweet, which was retweeted by the son of Secretary General Jawad Nasrallah, other posted accounts tweets describing Barakat as “rubbish that needs to be cleaned up” and calling for him to shut up, saying his mouth needed to be “shut”.
Furthermore, on August 15, Hussein Zeineddine, a cleric who expressed support for Hezbollahjob a video and one Tweeter criticizing the local daily Al-Akhbar for his cover of the August 12 stabbing of writer Salman Rushdie by a Lebanese-American national in New York, saying those who oppose the paper should “discipline them”.
“Lebanese authorities must ensure that journalists in the country can express their opinions and do their work freely, without fear of harassment or intimidation,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour, in Washington, DC. the safety of journalist Mohamad Barakat and employees of the Al-Akhbar newspaper, and specify that members of the press should not be subjected to threats.
Barakat told CPJ he wasn’t overly concerned about online threats, but said he had restricted his movements and didn’t leave the Beirut area often.
Asad AbuKhalil, columnist at Al-Akhbar, wrote on Twitter in reaction to Zeineddine’s statements that he “would not stray” from his work “no matter how many sermons and messages that follow”.
CPJ sent a message to Al-Akhbar’s editor, Ibrahim Al-Amin, for comment, but received no response.
CPJ also contacted the messaging app Rana Sahili, Hezbollah’s media liaison, but received no response. CPJ was unable to find Zeineddine’s contact information.
Separately, photojournalist Hasan Shaaban, who previously received death threats on August 3 and 4 after covering protests over a water shortage, told CPJ that a note was left on his car on August 14. , asking him to leave his native village of Beit Yahoun.
Shaaban said he reported the threats to the police, but his report “was not taken seriously”. He said he feared those threats would be carried out if he returned to his hometown without protection from the authorities.
Shaaban told CPJ, “I know there are dangerous assignments in my photojournalism, and I don’t mind that. But I don’t agree to die because I claimed my rights or because I covered demonstrations for people demanding their rights.
A senior aide to Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi told CPJ his office was “following” Shaaban’s case and said al-Mawlawi had met with a delegation from the local photographers’ union about it.
When CPJ contacted Elissar Naddaf, assistant to Lebanese Information Minister Ziad Makary, via the messaging app, he said he would answer questions, but had not done so at the time of publication.
In addition, Dima Sadek, a journalist who has frequently criticized Hezbollah and who is on leave to host a news program on the private television channel MTV Lebanon, received death and rape threats following a tweet she posted about the Rushdie stabbing, according to the news and Sadek, who spoke to CPJ via a messaging app.