Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah greets supporters via video link in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 22, 2022. Journalist Mohamad Barakat and the Al-Akhbar newspaper have recently received threatening messages from people including Hezbollah supporters. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Lebanese journalist Mohamad Barakat, Al-Akhbar newspaper receive threatening messages

Beirut, August 24, 2022–Lebanese authorities should immediately investigate threatening messages received by journalist Mohamad Barakat and the Al-Akhbar newspaper, and ensure that members of the press can work without fear of harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

Since August 13, Barakat, managing editor of the privately owned news website Asas Media, has received threats following an interview he gave with the broadcaster Al-Jadeed TV in which he criticized a recent speech by Hasan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Hezbollah Shiite political party and militant group, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

After the interview, an anonymous Twitter account supportive of Hezbollah accused Barakat of inciting sedition; following that tweet, which was retweeted by the secretary-general’s son Jawad Nasrallah, other accounts posted tweets describing Barakat as “garbage that needs to be cleaned” and calling to silence him, saying his mouth needed to be “slammed” shut.

Separately, on August 15, Hussein Zeineddine, a cleric who has voiced support for Hezbollah, posted a video and a tweet criticizing the local daily Al-Akhbar newspaper over its coverage of the August 12 stabbing of the writer Salman Rushdie by a U.S.-Lebanese dual national in New York, saying that those opposed to the newspaper should “discipline them.”

“Lebanese authorities must ensure that journalists in the country can voice their opinions and do their work freely, without fear of harassment or intimidation,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities should ensure the safety of journalist Mohamad Barakat and employees of the Al-Akhbar newspaper, and make it clear that members of the press should not be targeted with threats.”

Barakat told CPJ that he was not overly concerned about the online threats, but said that he had restricted his movements and did not often leave the Beirut area.

Asad AbuKhalil, a columnist at Al-Akhbar, wrote on Twitter in reaction to Zeineddine’s statements that he would “not deviate” from his work “no matter how many sermons and messages follow.”

CPJ messaged Al-Akhbar editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al-Amin for comment, but did not receive any response.

CPJ also contacted Hezbollah media liaison Rana Sahili messaging app but did not receive any reply. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Zeineddine.

Separately, photojournalist Hasan Shaaban, who previously received death threats on August 3 and 4 after his coverage of protests against a water shortage, told CPJ that a note was left on his car on August 14, demanding he leave his home village of Beit Yahoun.

Shaaban said he reported the threats to police, but his report “wasn’t taken seriously.” He said he fears those threats will be acted on if he returns to his hometown with no protection from authorities.

Shaaban told CPJ, “I know that there are dangerous assignments in my photojournalism, and I’m okay with that. But I’m not okay with dying because I demanded my rights or because I covered protests for people demanding their rights.”

A senior aide to Lebanese Minister of Interior Bassam al-Mawlawi told CPJ that his office was “following up” on Shaaban’s case and said al-Mawlawi had met with a delegation from the local Photographers’ Syndicate about it.

When CPJ contacted Elissar Naddaf, aide to the Lebanese Minister of Information Ziad Makary, via messaging app, he said he would respond to questions but had not done so at the time of publication.

Also, Dima Sadek, a journalist who has frequently criticized Hezbollah and is on leave from hosting a news program on the privately owned broadcaster MTV Lebanon, has received death and rape threats over a tweet she posted about Rushdie’s stabbing, according to news reports and Sadek, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.