Freedom of speech is a human right recognized in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a right that every human being is entitled to practice without being silenced.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the political system in Lebanon, this freedom often gets violated, sometimes behind the scenes and other times even out in public.
This violation can appear in many faces and colors and isn’t necessarily restricted to the use of force.
Any action, be it direct or indirect, verbal or physical, that prevents an individual or a group of individuals from freely expressing their opinions regarding any idea or person is considered a violation of human rights.
“Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.” ~Wikipedia
For the past 40 days, many Lebanese have been sleeping in their tents on the streets of sit-ins and waking up the next morning to resume their pacific protests against a system that has deprived them of many of their basic rights.
These people have latched on to the one right that has not yet been (fully) taken away from them, and are using what’s left of their sense of citizenship to try and reclaim what belongs to them.
The beauty of free speech is its sacredness in the worldwide community; people around the world place a high value on this right and feel personal offense and involvement when it is violated anywhere around the globe, and often do take action to support the repressed people.
This puts immense pressure on governments that witness massive demonstrations like the ones Lebanon is living today and prevents them from resorting to repression and force to counter the protests, for fear of the international reaction.
However, this does not mean that international pressure is enough to ensure the complete freedom for protesters.
As we are seeing every now and then, the Lebanese authority and its supporters are still infringing the protesters’ right to peacefully oppose it. That is a serious problem that must be addressed.
Just this past week, we’ve seen multiple examples of these infringements take place in many forms. At around 2 PM on Sunday, November 17 for instance, Al-Jadeed news reporters got bombarded with hateful phone calls and text messages that included shameful and vulgar phrases and attacks.
The six reporters were getting threats of physical violence, rape, and death from a huge amount of phone numbers belonging to people they don’t know.
The disturbing messages and calls were being sent from numbers with foreign country codes in addition to the local ones.
The timing and identicality of the attacks are obvious proof that the numbers were massively distributed and the attacks encouraged and instructed.
During their November 18 live appearance on Al-Jadeed to discuss the issue, four of the victims of these attacks showed a specimen of copypasta containing their names and phone numbers, which was widely shared via social media groups (mostly Whatsapp group chats) promoting abusive actions.
Even while they were on live TV, their phones rang nonstop. The reporters publicly displayed some of the Whatsapp threats they were getting.
They added that some people called them to apologize and let them know that they got their numbers from a copypasta, then consoled them and gave them emotional support.
The channel was also recently blocked from Television by some cable distributors who individually took the decision to boycott the channel in some Lebanese areas, including Beirut’s southern suburbs, Nabatiyeh, and Tyre.
Those terrible acts are how some opposers of Al-Jadeed decided to express their disagreement with the channel’s policy.
Whether or not the channel is biased and no matter how it handles the news, this form of feedback is not acceptable; it is disgraceful, it’s obscene, it’s absurd, and whoever uses it lacks basic human decency and deserves to be punished for it.
If you oppose a TV news channel or any media for that matter, I got three words for you: Don’t Watch It.
It’s as simple as that; it’s civil, it preserves their freedom of the press and your freedom of speech, both of which the Lebanese constitution asserts, and doesn’t cause anyone any harm.
No one is forcing you to watch anything you dislike and everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
You don’t have the right to assault a person for working for a channel that doesn’t agree with your political views just as that person doesn’t have the right to yell insults at your doorstep.
If you disagree with someone, do voice your disagreement and let them know about it; free speech guarantees that right for you as it does for them. But do so while remaining civil and attack the idea, not its bearer.
In another oppressive maneuver, five children were arrested from their homes in Hammana on Saturday evening, November 23rd. The oldest among them is 18 years old and the youngest is only 10! They were then transferred to the Lebanese Army Intelligence.
Their capital offense? Tearing down a political poster that was hung at the Free Patriotic Movement Center. And what happened after their arrest?
The minors were imprisoned and interrogated before being released just 9 hours later after midnight, at around 2 AM! Also, one of the kids is said to have been sick at the time of the incident.
Of course, social media erupted as it should in response to the irresponsible, exaggerated and, dare I say it, childish behavior of those who decided that tearing down a poster was a crime worth 9 hours of imprisonment – again – for a group of minors.
Whenever I think I’ve seen the limits that the authority is willing to reach in order to defend what’s left of its name, I wake up the next day only to be amazed by how low its blows are getting. Repressing children… What’s next?
The violence and intimidation that were, and occasionally still are, used against the peaceful protesters in various areas around Lebanon also show that the ruling class is utterly indifferent when it comes to free speech.
If not for the international community, the nonviolent protests would have been dealt with and over a long time ago…
Just 10 days ago, Human Rights Watch warned that defamation laws were being used to silence critics and arrest peaceful demonstrators in Lebanon.
Activists and protesters are sometimes getting arrested for nothing more than practicing their freedom of speech and expression.
The addictive poison of power is pushing those who can’t let it go to the limits, because they have now grown overwhelmed by the awakeness of the people whom they had kept successfully sedated for decades.
Their stubbornness to remain in power, coupled with their failure to find a proper response to the masses filling the streets, has forced them to resort to the only language they’re good at; violence and oppression.
But a revolution of pacific citizens, diligent workers, students, doctors, lawyers, and intellectuals is well-equipped to disarm physical and verbal threats, and thanks to that it will never be silenced.