On Friday evening, a military intelligence patrol reached the Al-Jadeed News building in an attempt to arrest journalist Radwan Mortada.
Mortada had refused to attend an interrogation for allegedly insulting the army and “fabricating crimes against the military establishment.”
The journalist had blamed the army commander-in-chief, General Joseph Aoun, and his predecessor, Jean Kahwaji, for failing to identify and remove the ammonium nitrate stored for years at the port until its mass-murdering explosion on August 4th.
“The investigation carried out by the judge at the Court of Justice, Fadi Sawan, will remain useless if the two are not summoned and questioned on this subject,” Mortada had stated.
His statement caused him a fierce backlash on social media from people who deemed it an attack on the integrity of the Lebanese army. It also caused him to be summoned by the military court for questioning.
“I have never been, and do not want to be, in confrontation with the army, but my right as a journalist is to ask about the responsibility of the army in the port file,” Mortada said.
As for being summoned to questioning, Mortada noted that, according to the law, a notification should have been made 24 hours prior to summoning.
According to Al Jadeed news, the arrest warrant against Mortada was then withdrawn on the basis that a journalist cannot be summoned by the military intelligence.
However, Mortada still has to appear before the State Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Ouwaidat on Monday morning, following a notification by the Criminal Investigation Department.
This is not the first time the press in Lebanon gets persecuted or sued or “punished” for criticizing the authorities or high officials or even political parties.
According to The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, as well as Human Rights Watch in a recent report, Lebanon has been witnessing an ongoing deterioration of its press freedom.
2020 saw a sharp increase of media workers being physically attacked, whether by pro-regime parties or at the hands of security forces, as well as the summoning of journalists and social media users for articles and posts criticizing or questioning authorities, such as in the case of Michel Chamoun back in June.
As for Radwan Mortada, the press has been standing in solidarity with him, condemning the prosecution against him, which is deemed against the freedom of the press in the country.
SEEDS for Legal Initiatives tweeted, “The siege of a media institution to bring in a journalist is a violation of the freedom of the media and journalists…”
Lebanon’s Alternative Press Syndicate issued a statement refusing “the investigation of journalists by security services, as well the prosecution of civilians by the military court.” The statement emphasized the journalists’ professional immunity that restricts their prosection to the Publications Court.
Among the journalists standing in solidarity with Mortada, Salman Andary tweeted, “Arrest the thieves who kill the country and the people .. Arrest those known for their practices and their thuggery and who are stealing and plundering the dignity of the people and their future… Don’t come close to the journalists […]. All solidarity with Al-Jadeed and Radwan. Freedom of expression is a priority.”