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For Immediate Release
October 17, 1996

Contact: Joel Campagna
Phone: (212)465-9344, x120

Pending Trials of Lebanese Journalists Draw Protest from CPJ

Appeal Comes on Eve of Prime Minister’s Meeting with Clinton

New York--The Committee to Protect Journalists today appealed to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to drop libel charges against three Lebanese journalists of the oppositon newspaper Al-Diyar. The cases are based on articles and a cartoon published in March criticizing the government.

In a letter released today in advance of Mr. Hariri’s Washington meeting with President Clinton Friday, CPJ expressed its deep concern over the pending trials of Al-Diyar editor in chief Sheril Ayyoub, director Youssef Howeyyek and cartoonist Elie Saliba. Government prosecutors have brought six libel suits against Mr. Ayyoub and Mr. Howeyyek for a series of articles that appeared in Al-Diyar between March 1 and March 16 that criticized Mr. Hariri and other Lebanese government officials. Mr. Saliba is charged in one of the suits for his satirical cartoon depicting current members of government. Their trials are expected to begin before the end of the year.

The journalists are being prosecuted for vaguely worded offenses under both the Lebanese Publications Law and the Penal Code that include “defaming and soiling the honor of the president of the republic and the government.” They face up to two years in prison and fines of up to 100 million Lebanese lira for each charge if convicted. Spokesmen for the newspaper said that the imposition of such heavy monetary penalties would likely force the paper to cease publication.

“These journalists are being prosecuted for having carried out their professional duties,” CPJ said in its letter, noting that such measures represent violations of the right of freedom of information guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. The committee asked the prime minister to recommend to the appropriate authorities that charges against the journalists be withdrawn and to take steps “to enact the necessary legal safeguards to prevent future violations of journalists’ rights to report news and opinions freely.”

CPJ documents and responds to press freedom abuses around the world. From its headquarters in New York, CPJ works to win the release of imprisoned journalists, directs international campaigns of protest against repressive governments, and provides practical safety information to reporters assigned to dangerous areas. CPJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and does not accept any government funding.

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