Journalists attacked while covering clashes in Lebanon

Cairo, June 19, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by what it sees as a trend in the attack of Lebanese journalists covering clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. In the past month, at least nine journalists have been attacked in four separate incidents.

“We see a disturbing pattern of attacks on journalists covering this widely reported international story,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney from New York. “The Lebanese government is responsible for ensuring that journalists are able to carry out their work without threat or fear of assault, and must do all in its power to protect them.”

On June 10, Ghadi Francis, a correspondent for the Beirut-based TV station Al-Jadeed, was covering the internal elections of the local Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Dhour Shweir, north of Beirut, when Hussein Hashem, the bodyguard of Assad Hardan, the party’s president, assaulted her, according to news reports. The reports said that Hashem had asked Francis to leave but when she refused, he punched her in the face and kicked her multiple times. Another journalist, Firas Shoufi of the daily Al-Akhbar, tried to intervene but was hit in the face, the reports said.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party issued a statement apologizing for the assault and claimed that Hardan’s bodyguard was not responsible, news reports said. A day earlier, Francis had published a story about the party’s elections, citing the possibility that Hardan may lose the election, according to news reports.

Naji Mazboudi, a cameraman for the Beirut-based private broadcaster Al-Mustaqbal, was attacked by two unidentified assailants while filming at a Beirut hospital on May 21, according to news reports. Mazboudi had been filming patients injured from clashes on the highway of Tareeq Al-Jadeed, news reports said. The men beat the journalist as he left the hospital, insulting him and his employer and telling him not to return, the reports said.

On May 20, a group of unidentified men attacked Rona al-Halabi, a correspondent for the Beirut-based TV station Al-Jadeed, and cameramen Omar Khaddaj and Elie Abu Asly while they covered clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near the northern road of al-Abda near Tripoli, according to news reports. The men blocked the journalists from filming and then beat Khaddaj on the head and attempted to seize his camera, news reports said. Khaddaj suffered bruises to his head, but the other two journalists were unharmed. The clashes came in the aftermath of the shooting of Ahmad Abdel Wahed, an anti-Syrian regime Sunni cleric, at an army checkpoint, news reports said

Lastly, a group of unidentified armed men attacked a news crew from the Moscow-based broadcaster Russia Today on May 17 as they covered clashes between pro- and anti-Assad supporters in the northern city of Tripoli, the station reported. The men attacked three crew members, destroying their equipment and calling them “spies of Bashar al-Assad,” news reports said. The journalists have not been identified in news reports.

Lebanon has increasingly been affected by the unrest in neighboring Syria, CPJ research shows. In April, CPJ documented the killing of a Lebanese cameraman while filming near the Syrian border.