BEIRUT: A Lebanese military court sentenced Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to six months in prison in absentia on charges of “attacking the Lebanese Army.”
She wrote on her Facebook page: “I am going to prison because I voiced my opinion while criminals and terrorists freely roam the country.”
Ghaddar’s defense attorney, Marwan Sakr, said: “Sentencing my client in absentia was prompted by a declaration she made in 2014 during a seminar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, when she said the Lebanese Army discriminated between Sunni and Shiite terrorism while tolerating the latter.”
He added: “In similar cases we normally object to the sentences, but in this particular case we cannot raise any objection because Hanin lives outside Lebanon.”
The SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom said the sentence “constitutes a dangerous precedent in Lebanon, in which the military judiciary intervenes in a civil case. It also constitutes lack of justice, muffling of voices, and deliberate bullying in which one party plays the role of a referee in a manner that contradicts the principles of fair trial.”
The sentence is “a new step toward turning the Lebanese government into an authoritarian regime, similar to other regimes in the region, where military judiciary is used for oppressing the public under vague terms and false arguments,” SKeyes added.
“How can an authority that claims to be concerned about freedom and human rights carry out a military sentence against journalists participating in political seminars?”
The sentence came 24 hours after Lebanon reversed a ban on Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Post.”
The ban was recommended by the country’s censorship board, but the Interior Ministry rejected the recommendation and the film was allowed in cinemas from Wednesday.
The ministry’s decision “was based on the fact that more than 20 Spielberg movies were allowed in Lebanese theaters, so there was no reason to ban his latest, and this is a good precedent,” Gino Raidy, vice president of the MARCH Center for Freedom of Speech, told Arab News.
When asked if he is worried about riots erupting in cinemas, he replied: “These kinds of activists aren’t violent; they’re peaceful even when they have different views.”