BEIRUT: Ibrahim Amine, editor of pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, was defiant Tuesday against Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi’s decision to refer a critical article he penned about President Michel Sleiman to the prosecutor’s office.
Amine said such a measure was part of a larger campaign aimed at “attacking the resistance.”
In a rare statement defending the freedom of press, Hezbollah expressed solidarity with Amine and implicitly accused Rifi of abusing his powers with malicious intent.
“I think Hezbollah recognizes that there are serious efforts that are part of a larger war to attack the resistance, even in the media, and I don’t think I can explain [Rifi’s] move any other way,” Amine told The Daily Star.
A proud supporter of the resistance group, Amine is known for his fiery criticism of Sleiman and Rifi, who he said was “too eager to begin his work in politics.”
Should the public prosecutor summon Amine over the case, the editor said he would not appear for questioning. “As a newspaper, we will not respond to the summoning because I think the prosecutor should act on warrants issued against Rifi first.”
A judicial source told The Daily Star that acting Prosecutor Samir Hammoud has not yet made his decision over the case.
Although cases similar to Amine’s are usually referred to the Court of Publications, Rifi referred the article to the state prosecution “because he wants us to face a penal offense rather than a publication offense.”
Amine also voiced his distrust of the Court of Publications, arguing that recent decisions against Al-Akhbar had revealed its biases.
“It seemed they [the judges] were sending us a message not to insult corrupt officials,” he said.
“Just like the president has the right to criticize the resistance, I also have the right to give my opinion on the issue as a supporter of that resistance,” said Amine, who noted that the case against him was not only political but also infringed on his freedom of expression.
In his article, published on March 3, titled “Lebanon without a president,” Amine said Sleiman had committed “ethical treason” because he “rejected the resistance in the face of [Israeli] occupation as something that did not need to be mentioned in a Cabinet’s [policy statement].”
Amine raised doubt over Sleiman’s intentions, calling for early presidential polls “because his [Sleiman’s] presence is a shame on all Lebanese.”
Rifi, a retired police chief and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, is seen as a controversial figure by Hezbollah and its allies who vetoed a Cabinet proposal last year to extend his term as head of the Internal Security Forces. The newly appointed justice minister referred Amine’s article to the prosecutor’s office on the basis that it 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.
Unexpectedly, Hezbollah strongly condemned Rifi’s “swift response and called for a retraction,” expressing its solidarity with Amine.