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Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in central Beirut, Lebanon, on December 23, 2018. Multiple reporters were harassed and assaulted while covering the protests. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Journalists assaulted and news website raided in Lebanon in December

January 7, 2019 11:19 AM ET

Lebanese soldiers assaulted at least four journalists covering a protest in Beirut on December 23, 2018, according to news reports, the journalists' employers, videos and pictures shared on social media by journalists, and the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

Soldiers harassed and assaulted Hasan Shaaban, a photographer for the English-language Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star and the news agency Reuters, Richard Sammour, a photographer for the local daily Al-Joumhouria, and an Al-Jadeed TV crew consisting of reporter Rachel Karam and cameraman Zakaria al-Khatib.

Karam told the Committee to Protect Journalists that she and al-Khatib were covering a protest on Beirut's Hamra Street when security forces began to hit them with truncheons.

"The first thing they hit was the camera and I was holding a microphone, so they knew we were journalists. They broke the camera and kept beating us," Karam said. "They hit Zakaria twice in his left arm and he wasn't able to move it. They even kicked Zakaria while I kept shouting 'we are press, we are press.' Luckily, Zakaria's arm wasn't broken, but he couldn't move it for three days," she said

Videos and pictures shared on social media by Shaaban and Sammour show a group of soldiers approaching Shaaban as he shouts "journalist, journalist." One of the soldiers asks, "are you taking pictures of the army?" A soldier subsequently dragged Shaaban by the neck and pushed him to the ground. Three other soldiers surrounded him and beat him.

Shaaban was cited by his employer, The Daily Star, as saying that the soldiers assaulted him in Beirut's Ras al-Nabeh District after he had taken a picture of them grabbing a protester.

Sammour told CPJ that, shortly after assisting Shaaban and taking him away from the scene, he too was attacked while filming and taking pictures of soldiers assaulting protesters near Hamra Street.

"A soldier told me to step back and stop taking pictures, then I felt blood over my head. A soldier had hit me in the head. People on the scene helped me until I finished my work and went to hospital to treat my wound," Sammour said.

On December 10, 2018, 10 police officers belonging to Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) raided the Beirut office of the independent online news website Daraj and detained Hazem el-Amin, the website's co-founder and editor-in-chief, for two hours following a visit by an ISF investigator, according to news reports, el-Amin, and Skeyes.

El-Amin was quoted by Skeyes as saying that an ISF investigator showed up at the office in connection to a lawsuit over some material published on Daraj earlier in 2018. The prosecutor had dropped the lawsuit against the website.

"When I refused to comment on this, he requested information about the owners of Daraj and I said I would do that only in the presence of a lawyer and he left. Shortly afterwards, he left and 10 armed ISF officers stormed into the office and treated other fellow journalists harshly. They took me from the building, put me in a car, handcuffed me, and drove me to the Verdun barracks, where the interrogator told me that the investigator had accused me of being hostile towards him and using inappropriate words. I signed a statement confirming I hadn't treated anybody in a hostile manner and was released two hours later," el-Amin said to Skeyes.

On his Facebook account, el-Amin wrote that Daraj respects the right of anybody they report on to bring them to court, but "what happened today resembles the methods of police states where the security forces that are supposed to represent the rule of law treat journalists rudely and harshly."

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