BEIRUT: Hezbollah criticized Tuesday Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi over his decision to refer a newspaper article about President Michel Sleiman to the prosecutor’s office, saying such a measure was malicious and violated the freedom of expression.
“Referring an article by [Al-Akhbar editor] Ibrahim al-Amine to the prosecutor's office is a clear example of the poor performances of officials and their disrespect for public freedoms,” Hezbollah’s office said in a statement.
“From time to time, authorities in Lebanon deal with things in malicious, arbitrary and unjust ways that contradict basic human rights, especially the [right to] criticize and freely express opinions, as well as the rights of journalists to write freely and criticize authority and officials to hold them accountable, which is the heart of the media’s work,” it added.
Rifi, a retired police chief and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, is seen as a controversial figure by the party which vetoed a Cabinet proposal last year to extend his term as head of the Internal Security Forces.
Earlier his week, the newly appointed justice minister referred an article published by the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhabr newspaper to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that Amine’s piece was defamatory and insulted Sleiman and the presidency.
In a statement, Rifi said that the article promoted disobedience and insulted the military establishment and security institutions.
In the article, published on March 3, titled “Lebanon without a president,” Amine, known for his fiery remarks against Sleiman and Rifi, said the president committed an "ethical treasury" because he "rejected the resistance clause in the face of occupation as something that did not need to be mentioned in a Cabinet's [statement]."
The writer raised doubt over Sleiman's intentions, urging for early presidential elections "because his [Sleiman's presence is a shame on all Lebanese."
"Michel Sleiman, if there is any modesty left in you ... leave!"
Hezbollah said it strongly condemned Rifi’s “swift response and called for a retraction,” expressing its solidarity with Amine.
The editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar hit back at Rifi in an article published Tuesday, challenging the minister to raise the bar and accusing him of mismanaging public funds and stealing from ISF budgets.