'The PM is a donkey': Lebanese activist faces jail for slander

#InsideLebanon

The arrest is part of an increasing suppression of media freedom, local watchdog says

Protests have been on the increase in Lebanon, such as this in Beirut against tax plans (Anadolu)
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Monday 27 March 2017 17:56 UTC
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A Lebanese activist is facing jail time for a Facebook post in which he compared the country’s leaders to various animals, part of an increase in such cases since the election of the new president, according to a media watchdog.

Ahmad Amhaz has been in jail since his arrest on 21 March for a Facebook post in February in which he likened Prime Minister Saad Hariri to a donkey, Speaker Nabih Berri to a crocodile, and President Michel Aoun to a species yet to be discovered.

“We are very worried by the multiplication of these cases since the election of the new president,” Ayman Mhanna, director of media watchdog group SKeyes told MEE.

Former army general Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, was confirmed as president in October 2016, after a long presidential vacuum in the country.

In December, a student was arrested for a Facebook post which also criticised Aoun.

“SKeyes believes that any issue related to libel, slander and defamation should [be heard as] civil cases and absolutely not criminal cases,” Mhanna added.

Content of post 'irrelevant'

For human rights campaigners, the content of the post is irrelevant.

“This issue is not the content of the post itself - short of hate speech or inciting violence, the idea of locking someone up for criticising politicians on Facebook is ludicrous,” Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told MEE.

“He shouldn’t have spent the last week in jail, let alone be facing up to two years in prison.”

A judge on Monday confirmed the charges against Amhaz, which was immediately appealed by his defence team.

But, hours later, the judge ruled that Amhaz must remain in detention and the case will now move forward to trial.

'He shouldn’t have spent the last week in jail, let alone be facing up to two years in prison'

- Bassam Khawaja, HRW

“Even if Ahmad is to be tried, this can happen without the need to lock him behind bars. This is a very negative precedent that will contribute to shrinking the space for free expression in Lebanon,” Mhanna said.

Khawaja agreed that the issue of pre-trial detention was worrisome for freedom in Lebanon.

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“There is a broader problem with pre-trail detention in Lebanon, and so for example here, even if he is released and charges are dropped, he will still have spent a week in jail for no reason, which sends a message that speaking out will carry a heavy price, even if you are not convicted.”