BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Jail sentence for slander alarming: lawyer

This undated picture shows Jean Assy.

BEIRUT: A Lebanese citizen has been sentenced to two months in prison for insulting the president, prompting calls for the charges to be dropped and the law to be reformed.

Jean Assy, a Web developer and prolific tweeter, was arrested last summer over a series of tweets from January and February 2013 in which he called President Michel Sleiman “castrated,” among other things.

He took to Twitter again Wednesday to announce that after several months of deliberations, “the judge of the Court of Publications has issued a ruling for [me to spend] two months in prison for slandering the president.”

Speaking to The Daily Star, Assy defended his comments, saying that he made them in a fit of anger after two Army soldiers were killed during an ambush in Arsal early last February, as well as the interior minister’s negotiations with fugitive hard-liner Sheikh Ahmad Assir.

“I was provoked,” he said. “It was a reaction to specific incidents.”

The Lebanese penal code criminalizes slander, libel and defamation. Sentences can be between two months and two years in prison, a fine or both.

There have been a number of similar cases before, but according to lawyer Nizar Saghieh, this is the first time in a long time that someone has received more than a fine.

“It hasn’t been applied for more than 15 years,” said Saghieh, who has a long history of working with such cases.

“I hope the ruling will be overturned,” he added.

“This is a new development and it’s very alarming to hand down a jail sentence just for speaking.”

But Human Rights Watch went further, arguing that the legislation needed to be reformed.

“We hope for a revision of this law that criminalizes public expression,” Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said. “The issue here is no one should go to jail for defaming or insulting a public figure, this what international law requires.”

Lebanon has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of which says that all public figures, including heads of state, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.

Houry said although cases such as Assy’s were not very common in Lebanon, they were on the uptick.

“I would hate to see Lebanon go down the path of other countries in the region ... that are using these provision to silence criticism,” he said. “Is this really the company Lebanon wants to be keeping?”

Assy said he intended to appeal the ruling. A protest was held Wednesday evening to demand the charges be dropped.

“I don’t get why the president is doing this to me,” he said. “Maybe fine me, but to jail me – they want to destroy my life.”

The president’s office declined to comment on the sentence.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 13, 2014, on page 4.

Recommended

Advertisement

Comments

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

Alert: If you are facing problems with posting comments, please note that you must verify your email with Disqus prior to posting a comment. follow this link to make sure your account meets the requirements. (http://bit.ly/vDisqus)

comments powered by Disqus
Summary

A Lebanese citizen has been sentenced to two months in prison for insulting the president, prompting calls for the charges to be dropped and the law to be reformed.

The Lebanese penal code criminalizes slander, libel and defamation. Sentences can be between two months and two years in prison, a fine or both.

There have been a number of similar cases before, but according to lawyer Nizar Saghieh, this is the first time in a long time that someone has received more than a fine.

Assy said he intended to appeal the ruling.

The president's office declined to comment on the sentence.


Advertisement

FOLLOW THIS ARTICLE

Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here