Beirut, May 17, 2022 – Lebanese authorities must conduct a transparent investigation into the assault of video journalist Hussein Bassal by Hezbollah supporters while he was covering Sunday’s elections and allow all journalists to work freely without any fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On Sunday, May 15, Bassal, who works for alternative media website Megaphone, was beaten and kicked by dozens of supporters of the Hezbollah political party and militant group while he was covering the parliamentary elections in the southern village of Ansar, according to a video and tweet by his employer, a video posted on social media of the journalist after the attack, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, a local NGO that documented the attack, and Megaphone’s co-founder and managing director Jean Kassir who spoke to CPJ by phone. Hezbollah and its allies had been part of Lebanon’s governing coalition but appeared to suffer losses in Sunday’s elections, according to news reports.
“We condemn the attack on Megaphone video journalist Hussein Bassal while he was covering the elections in Lebanon, and we demand an investigation that holds the perpetrators to account,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Journalists should be able to do their jobs documenting elections and all major events of public interest freely and without of intimidation, attacks, or fear of retribution.”
Bassal was wearing his press permit, issued by the Ministry of Information, and covering elections in Ansar when he began documenting tactics by the Hezbollah party to add votes, such as accompanying voters behind the electoral barrier by claiming that the voters are illiterate and bringing large numbers of people with severe illnesses and disabilities to vote for their party, the journalist told CPJ by phone.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections also documented multiple violations of the integrity and confidentiality of the elections by various parties, including Hezbollah and Amal, a Hezbollah ally.
Around 5:30 p.m., the news about the higher number of voters for the opposition was being reported in the area, which would eventually lead to Hezbollah and Amal losing the parliamentary majority, including two seats in the south, Bassal told CPJ. As the news spread, Hezbollah and Amal supporters grew angry, and someone threw a water bottle at the journalist, but Bassal said he didn’t pay much attention to it.
Around 6:30 p.m., a male Hezbollah supporter took a picture of Bassal and pulled him by his press permit, saying he wanted to talk to the journalist in private, the journalist told CPJ. Bassal, anxious about being attacked, approached and asked for help from a representative of Together for Change, an opposition list, or a group of independent candidates who ran for parliament together.
Then, Bassal heard the supporter call another person and say that he knew Bassal’s identity and asked for backup. The journalist decided to leave the voting area for safety reasons and head toward the Together for Change office, he told CPJ.
When Bassal arrived at the office, alongside the representative, between 20 and 30 men gathered outside, and Bassal said he heard some of them saying, “We want him dead or alive.”
The journalist called his outlet to alert them to his situation when a police officer arrived and escorted the journalist to the officer’s car. Before they reached the vehicle, dozens of Hezbollah supporters attacked Bassal.
“One of them jumped and kicked me, so I fell on the ground before a group started beating me, thwacking me, pulling my hair, dragging me, and kicking me,” he told CPJ. “One of them threatened me with a knife, and I was trying to escape it when a representative of Together for Change was hit with it in his head. They were walking on me and beating me, but I managed to escape between their legs.”
After asking for help and spreading the word of the assault, soldiers escorted Bassal to the American University in Beirut Medical Center. He received treatment for bruises all over his body and hairline fractures in his ribs, left knee, and right foot.
“I’m still alive, and I don’t know how,” Bassal said. “They were hitting to cause harm. They were hitting to kill.”
Reached by CPJ, a senior officer in the media office of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces said they “did their job by protecting Bassal and escorting him to Beirut,” without giving any further details.
Kassir told CPJ that the website’s editorial line was critical of the Lebanese authorities and parties, primarily Hezbollah and its supporters, and that Megaphone has been targeted on social media for these stances in the past.
In 2021, journalist Mariam Seif Eddine fled Lebanon with her family after she received serious threats from Hezbollah and Amal party supporters following her coverage of a murder of a teenager, as CPJ documented.
CPJ called and texted Hezbollah’s media liaison Rana Sahili but did not receive any response.