Samir Kassir square sets the stage for protest against freedom suppression

The organizers launched a campaign labeled “against repression” in the wake of an "unprecedented decline in freedom of expression in all forms.”
by Zeina Nasser English Zeina_w_Nasser

25 July 2018 | 01:38

Source: by Annahar

This photo shows an activist participating in the "against oppression" protest on 24 July, 2018. (Annahar Photo/ Marwan Assaf)

BEIRUT: Activists gathered in Samir Kassir Square, downtown Beirut, Tuesday afternoon to protest the recent crackdown on freedom of speech and wave of investigations against dissidents. 

The organizers launched a campaign labeled “against repression” in the wake of an "unprecedented decline in freedom of expression in all forms.”

The statement had called on concerned citizens to gather at 7:00 p.m. in defense of “our freedoms granted to us by the constitution.”

Charbel Khoury, one of the activists who was sent to court as a result of a Facebook post two weeks ago, told Annahar that he's been the victim of death threats ever since he published his views. 

He had lightheartedly made a joke about the revered Lebanese Saint Charbel, which many Christians took offense to. The 28-year-old, named after the Lebanese Saint, had humorously credited the Christian emblem of bestowing a couple with a child after years of failing to conceive. 

Threats began rolling into messenger as soon as his post was shared by a Lebanese Forces supporter he says, followed by verbal attacks from his colleagues at the IT office he works at. 

In light of this onslaught, he contacted the police. 

After a lawyer affiliated with the Lebanese Forces filed a lawsuit against him, Khoury was brought in for questioning on Thursday, July 19 by members of the Internal Security Forces.

Khoury could not elaborate more on the circumstances surrounding his investigation, yet stood strong in his beliefs and refused to apologize. 

The series of court cases and judicial investigations in recent months against Lebanese media figures, which have rocked the country’s reputation as a safe haven for freedom of expression, have now been extended to ordinary citizens. 

Protesters gather at the Samir Kassir Square in Downtown Beirut on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 (Annahar Photo)

Some of the lawsuits targetting freedom of speech include that against popular TV host Marcel Ghanem. Ghanem faced a lawsuit of defamation because of remarks made by a guest on his previous show Kalam Ennas.

Meanwhile, Lebanese-American Journalist Hanin Ghaddar was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison by a military tribunal. The sentence was later dropped and her case was referred to the court of publications. 

Although Lebanon is considered one of the freest environments in the region, some laws have put a limit on free speech.

Libel or defaming foreign leaders and public officials have been outlawed, and it is a criminal offense to insult the president and the flag, among other national symbols, while other laws ban speech that is deemed insulting to religion.   

Jad Chahrour, one of the organizers of the event and communications officer at the Samir Kassir Foundation, expressed his surprise at the recent clampdown on common citizens. 

The real battle, he says, is for Lebanese to hold on to their rights to express their opinions without fear of retribution.

“We should protect the space for freedom of expression on all levels,” he said, through writing, filming, and taking photographs. 

"Today's move against oppression was spontaneous, the protest gained traction and reflected people’s anger."

The late Samir Kassir, a popular editorial writer at Annahar, was an outspoken critic of the Syrian presence in Lebanon before being killed by a car bomb blast in 2005. 


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