Local TV station Al-Jadeed staffers are seen in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 28, 2015. Al-Jadeed host Neshan Der Haroutiounian is due to face trial in October over his remarks about Turkish President Erdoğan. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Lebanese TV host to stand trial over remarks critical of Turkish President Erdoğan

On July 9, 2020, the Lebanese attorney general’s office filed criminal charges against Neshan Der Haroutiounian, a Lebanese-Armenian TV host, for his remarks about Turkish President Erdoğan, and set a date for his trial at Beirut’s Publications Court on October 8, according to news reports.

The charges stemmed from a July 11 filing by Muhammad Ziyad Jaafil, a Lebanese lawyer, against local privately owned broadcaster Al-Jadeed and Der Haroutiounian, who hosts the “Ana Heik” (“I Am Like This”) talk show on that broadcaster, according to those reports and Jaafil, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

In his filing, which CPJ reviewed, Jaafil alleged that Der Haroutiounian’s remarks critical of Erdoğan in a June 10 episode of his program violated Articles 288 and 317 of the Lebanese penal code, which criminalize harming ties to a foreign country and inciting sectarian strife, respectively. The filing also called on the government to charge anyone who participated in the production of the June 10 program.

If convicted of both charges, the journalist could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 800,000 Lebanese pounds ($527), according to the penal code.

Under Articles 25 and 26 of the Lebanese Criminal Procedure Law, any citizen is entitled to call on the judiciary to prosecute any party whom they feel have violated the law.

In the July 10 program, in response to a viewer’s tweet referencing Der Haroutiounian’s Armenian ancestry, the journalist called Erdoğan “evil” and said that he “was the son of a million evil men,” referring to Turkey’s involvement in the Armenian genocide.

Jaafil told CPJ that he submitted his filing after watching the episode and seeing the subsequent reactions from a large segment of the viewers.

Jaafil also said his lawsuit was unrelated to a statement by the Turkish embassy in Beirut condemning Der Haroutiounian’s remarks and requesting the intervention of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry to guarantee respect for the Turkish president in all Lebanese media.

“Der Haroutiounian has the right to defend the case of the Armenian genocide as he sees fit and is entitled to his opinion, but when he is broadcasting live, he must be balanced and avoid reacting to comments, as well as abusing people or other countries, because that’s a violation of media laws,” Jaafil said.

CPJ emailed Der Haroutiounian for comment but did not receive any reply. In an interview on the Al-Jadeed program “It’s About Time,” he said he was willing to go to prison over the remarks, saying “I will be paying the price of my convictions.”