Lebanon should overturn conviction of journalist

New York, December 12, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Lebanese Court of Cassation to overturn the conviction of Rami Aysha, a Lebanese-Palestinian freelance journalist charged with purchasing firearms while he was investigating arms trafficking from Lebanon to Syria.

On November 25, a military tribunal sentenced Aysha to six months’ imprisonment in absentia. Aysha told CPJ he was out of the country at the time but returned to Lebanon and attended a court hearing on December 9. The court upheld the conviction despite the recommendation of the prosecutor to drop the charges, according to Aysha and local news reports. The sentence, however, was reduced to two weeks’ imprisonment.

Aysha told CPJ that he filed an appeal on December 10 with the Court of Cassation because the conviction, even with the reduced sentence, means he will lose his press credentials under Lebanese law and will no longer be able to work as a journalist. Article 22 of Lebanon’s 1962 press law states that no one convicted of a crime may be considered a professional journalist.

The court agreed to review Aysha’s case and set the next hearing for Monday, December 16.

“Journalism is not a crime,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “The military tribunal confused the essential distinction between reporting on a crime and committing one. The Court of Cassation should remove that confusion by overturning Rami Aysha’s baseless conviction, as the prosecutor himself recommended.”

Aysha has worked as a journalist and translator for several international news outlets, including Time Magazine. He was detained along with two other men by Hezbollah forces in August 2012 while investigating arms smuggling to Syria. Transferred to Lebanese government custody, the three were charged with smuggling arms by a military tribunal. The journalist told CPJ he was beaten while in both Hezbollah and government custody.

Aysha’s co-defendants have affirmed that he was only accompanying them in his capacity as a journalist, and Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV also acknowledged that Aysha was a journalist investigating a story at the time of his arrest.

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