Journalist’s passport officially restored

New York, July 19, 2000–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today welcomed Lebanon’s decision to reverse last month’s annulment of the passport of Lebanese journalist Raghida Dergham, the New York Bureau chief for the London-based daily Al-Hayat.

On June 19, Lebanese authorities seized Dergham’s Lebanese passport when she arrived in the Beirut airport. Dergham was accompanying United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on his tour of several Middle East countries. Her passport was returned prior to her departure the following day, but contained a stamp annulling the travel document and prohibiting its renewal without the approval of the General Directorate for Internal Security.

Although no reason for the annulment of Dergham’s passport was given at the time, Internal Security later stated that the action stemmed from her participation on May 19 in a panel discussion sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C. Among the panelists were the British journalist Patrick Seale, as well as Uri Lubrani, Israel’s Coordinator of Activities in Southern Lebanon. Internal Security said because Dergham had participated in the panel with Lubrani, she had violated Lebanese law which prohibits contacts between Lebanese citizens and Israelis. CPJ’s sources, however, said that the action against the journalist may have been the result of her critical coverage of the Lebanese government’s dispute with the U.N. over the demarcation of the Lebanese-Israeli border.

The spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Fred Eckhard, told CPJ today that Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations, Salim Tadmori, informed U.N. officials on Monday that the order to annul Dergham’s passport had been reversed by President Emile Lahoud. Eckhard said that Annan had previously discussed the matter with Lahoud, and that U.N. officials then followed up on the matter with Lebanese diplomats at the U.N.

“We welcome President Lahoud’s efforts to resolve this regrettable incident,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should never be deprived of the right to hold a passport or punished because of their professional duties. We hope that this decision signals a commitment by the Lebanese government to prevent similar incidents in the future. We also look forward to the Lebanese authorities renewal of Ms. Dergham’s passport immediately without hindrance or delay.”