BEIRUT: Journalist Rami Aysha has been sentenced to six months in jail, reportedly on the charge of purchasing firearms, a judicial source told The Daily Star Friday.
Several international groups and news outlets have condemned the sentence, calling on the Lebanese government to protect the rights of journalists.
Aysha, who has worked with Time, the Australian Broadcasting Company and Spiegel Online, was arrested on Aug. 27, 2012, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF). A colleague of his said on condition of anonymity that Aysha was involved in the press operations of Fatah in Lebanon.
“As a journalist, Aysha was doing a story on arms trafficking when arrested. It is crucial that the Lebanese judicial authorities distinguish between journalist investigation and illicit trafficking,” said a RSF report released Friday.
Aysha was “kidnapped” by a group of men in Beirut’s southern suburbs, explained RSF’s Soazig Dollet. An article on Time.com published soon after his arrest claims the men who apprehended the journalist were “Hezbollah agents.”
“They put a pistol to my temple and asked me on which side I wanted the bullet ... They asked me if I was right- or left-handed. Then they struck me so hard on my left hand index finger that it remains broken,” Aysha told RSF in the weeks after the incident.
He was then transferred to the Lebanese Military Intelligence services, and later to the military police, according to the organization. Aysha told a judge that he had been “tortured” during the period of his detention.
The case had decidedly political undertones. At the time of his arrest, Aysha was reporting about illicit arms trafficking between Lebanon and Syria. According to a letter written this week by the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance on Aysha’s behalf, the investigation was related to “weapons importation by Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar published a report soon after the affair, claiming Aysha had been traveling with his brother-in-law Maj. Wissam Abdel-Khaleq. Abdel-Khaleq, according to Al-Manar, had been arrested previously for smuggling arms to Syrian rebels.
“Abdel-Khaleq had a list of the arms he wanted to buy for the opposition fighters in Syria which are military light arms like rocket launchers,” said the report, published Sept. 1, 2012.
Hezbollah has been a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent fighters to combat opposition forces.
After more than two weeks in various detention centers, Aysha was freed on bail in September 2012.
The case was presented before a military court on Nov. 25 of this year where Aysha, who is currently travelling abroad, was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison, the judicial source said.
Aysha told RSF he believed he would be arrested at the airport when he returned to Lebanon on Dec. 8.
Colleagues and press freedom advocates have taken to social networks to protest the ruling. “Please help protect journalist @ramiaysha from illegal imprisonment and torture,” British MP Tom Watson tweeted at his 135,000 followers Friday.
The case comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Lebanese authorities, who were filmed beating journalists from Al-Jadeed, sparking angry protests from members of the press.