BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam apologized for an assault by his guards on reporters outside Dar al-Fatwa Sunday, calling for a full investigation into the incident.
"During the process of electing the grand mufti in Dar Al-Fatwa today a number of media colleagues where shoved while doing their professional duty in an altercation [that erupted] with the prime minister’s guard, and the incident evolved in to an unfortunate conflict with an outcome that left one journalist injured and bruised," a statement from Salam's office said. "The media office regrets the incident."
Salam also called for Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk to launch an investigation in to the incident, the statement said.
Shortly after, Internal Security Forces issued a statement saying that “the director general of the Internal Security Forces initiated investigations into the incident that happened in front of Dar Al-Fatwa and the result will be announced later.”
The ISF's initial report on the incident blames the journalists for the disorganization, contradicting eye-witness reports.
“Journalists shoved in to the area in an unorganized manner, which prompted the prime minister’s guards to organize entry. What followed was a verbal attack that evolved into shoving that led to the injury of one journalist and some officers,” the statement said.
However, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige condemned the assault on journalists in a statement.
“As an information minister, I announce my complete solidarity with the journalists and I have made all the necessary calls pertaining to the case, and I will follow up on the incident with the relevant political and judicial authorities,” he said.
A violent riot broke out inside Dar al-Fatwa as the election of the new grand mufti was underway, with guards from the Grand Serail beating up reporters, stomping them to the ground and dragging them on the floor.
“They tried to shove us into the hall where the mufti was speaking in a very uncivilized way,” The Daily Star photographer Hasan Shaaban said, “and when one photographer photographed the violent way they were treating us, they started beating him up.”
According to Shaaban, the whole incident broke out because security guards were mismanaging the entrance of some 40 photographers and journalists into the hall.
“Some would tell us to go in and others would tell us to stay outside, and at some point they started pushing us inside very violently,” he said. “The violent outbreak erupted during Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian’s inaugural speech."
Shaaban said that as soon as security guards began assaulting the journalist, all of the other photographers clicked away at their cameras, capturing photos of the brutal assault.
“And when we started taking photos, they started beating us up to. There were about 10 guards hammering over each person,” he said, adding that the number of guards was close to 50.
With one leg lifted up and complaining about bruises in his rib, Shaaban said that reporters were dragged on the floor and stomped on and kicked.
“[Al-Araby al-Jadeed photographer] Abed al-Rahman Orabi was so severely wounded that he had to go to the hospital,” he added.
Orabi, whose sleeves and pants were ripped, was so disoriented after the attack that he got up and asked “Where am I?”, Shaaban added.
He said that while he was being beaten up, the grand mufti turned up and he "pleaded to him to take my camera so it wouldn’t break."