Army takes legal action against newspaper

New York, September 4, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today expressed its deep concern about the Lebanese army’s recent lawsuit against two journalists working with the leading Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar.

On August 31, Al-Nahar was informed that the army had taken legal action against Joseph Nasr, the paper’s editor, and Raffi Madian, an opposition political figure who had contributed an article to the paper’s August 9 edition arguing against compulsory military service in Lebanon. The piece called for Lebanon to adopt a professional army and discussed the hardships of conscription.

The two men were accused of defaming the army, but it is uncertain what penalties they face. According to a source at Al-Nahar, the case, which is set for October 13, will be tried in a Lebanese press court.

“Nasr and Madian are being unjustly prosecuted for their journalistic work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Unwarranted lawsuits such as these—particularly brought by the military—can only have a chilling effect on the media. The army should withdraw this suit immediately.”

Military cracks down on press
The case against Al-Nahar comes just one week after the army issued a separate lawsuit on August 24 against the Paris-based weekly Al-Watan Al-Arabi. The magazine published an article alleging that members of the Syrian armed forces, which have about 20,000 troops stationed in Lebanon, disguised themselves by wearing Lebanese army uniforms.

The lawsuit followed a series of large-scale arrests of Christians who oppose Syria’s military presence in Lebanon. About 250 individuals were detained in August alone.

CPJ also remains troubled that journalists Antoine Bassil and Habib Younes, who were arrested in mid-August and charged with having illegal contact with Israeli officials, may have been detained because of their work

Lebanon considers itself to be at war with Israel and bans any dealing with the Jewish state. The charge carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years, and possibly the death penalty. CPJ published an alert about the case on August 21 [See August 21 news alert].