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‘Unprecedented’: Lebanese journalist sentenced to six months for criticising army

Hanin Ghaddar sentenced in absentia by military court for comments four years ago that 'defamed the Lebanese army'
The Lebanese journalist has been found guilty for comments she made at a conference in 2014 (screengrab)

A Lebanese journalist has been sentenced in absentia to six months in prison by a military court for criticising the army, it was reported on Thursday.

Hanin Ghaddar was sentenced on 10 January for "defaming the Lebanese army, harming its reputation and accusing it of distinguishing between Lebanese citizens", a military court official told AFP.

Ghaddar, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute think-tank in the US, made the remarks at a conference in the US in 2014.

She described the situation in Lebanon as "Sunnis being clamped down by Hezbollah and the Lebanese army versus Hezbollah militia being the untouchables".

Ayman Mhanna, director of Lebanese press freedom group SKeyes, told Middle East Eye her sentencing was unprecedented.

"The interference of the military tribunal in trying a civilian for an opinion is unprecedented and gives a very worrying signal for freedom of expression in Lebanon," he said. "We are appalled by this sentence."

"It shows the level of politicisation of the judiciary process. And it also shows that politicians in power are manipulating two institutions, the judiciary and the military, and hiding behind them to put pressure on free voices challenging them."

The military courts in Lebanon have a very broad jurisdiction over civilians and rights groups have voiced concern that they could be used as a tool for intimidation against free speech and activism.

Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that that reports of Ghaddar’s sentencing were part of a wider crackdown on freedom of speech.

“This is a clear attempt by the military court to quash any criticism,” he told MEE. “Why else would they sentence someone for comments delivered out of the country four years ago?”

“This is only the latest case in which Lebanese authorities have brought charges against protected speech. Human Rights Watch has found that Lebanon routinely uses military courts to try civilians in violation of their due process rights and international law.”

Ghaddar was formerly the managing editor of news website NOW Lebanon. Her research at the Washington Institute focuses on "Shiite politics throughout the Levant".

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