BEIRUT: Scores of angry demonstrators Tuesday attempted to storm the headquarters of a Beirut TV channel in protest of a skit that they believe insulted Imam Musa Sadr.
Around 300 protesters, some carrying the flags of the Amal Movement, gathered outside Al-Jadeed TV headquarters in Beirut's Wata Msaitbeh neighborhood, as the Lebanese Army deployed heavily to prevent them from storming into the building.
Protesters argue that a comedy skit in an episode on "Duma-Karacy" program, aired on Monday night, was offending. The episode depicted Speaker Nabih Berri, Amal chief, and deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as puppets, and discussed Sadr’s mysterious disappearance.
The show also featured former MP Hasan Yaacoub, a critic of Berri.
Yaacoub is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yaacoub, a companion of Imam Musa Sadr and journalist Abbas Badreddine, who all went missing during a visit to Libya in 1978.
Protesters hurled stones at the building and yelled insults at Al-Jadeed’s owner, Tahseen Khayyat. "Here we are Musa Sadr," they chanted.
Sadr is the founder of the Amal Movement. Berri and other Lebanese officials have long accused Gadhafi of the kidnapping.
An army unit arrived at the area around 8:30 p.m. and negotiated with protesters, who continued to cheer for Berri saying, "Here we are Nabih".
A brief rally was held on Monday outside Al-Jadeed in the aftermath of the episode.
“This attack is not justified,” the show’s producer Charbel Khalil said. “I am sure, and I bet you and I bet the protesters themselves that they did not watch the episode. I do not think the matter deserves such a reaction,” Khalil said.
Information Minister Melhem Riachi commented on the incident, saying that the “freedom of expression should be respected."
"We contacted senior Amal officials to resolve the matter," he said.
Two Al-Jadeed employees sustained minor injuries in Tuesday’s protest, said an Al-Jadeed reporter.
"The protest was spontaneous," the channel quoted a source in Amal Movement as saying, denying any decision from Amal leadership to demonstrate.
“I am against this method [angry protests]. I am dissatisfied with this,” said National Media Council head Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz. “Security forces should protect this [media] institution.”
However, Mahfouz seemed to blame the TV channel for the uproar. “Al-Jadeed had to avoid this current situation,” he said. “The protesters believe that the person who was insulted is someone near holiness.”
Al-Jadeed said that its coverage was cut in a number of areas in Beirut.
Later, protesters launched fireworks and kept hurling stones at the Al-Jadeed building, damaging a nearby pharmacy.
By 10:00 p.m. the Lebanese Army managed to restore calm and disperse protesters.
“The Lebanese Army and Security Forces responded immediately,” Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said, adding that legal action will be taken against violators.
“We have long called for an accord of honor for media institutions... however, no act of lawlessness against media institutions is justified,” he added.
“Legal accountability is available for both sides, you [Al-Jadeed] and them [protesters],” he said.
Judge Samir Hammoud issued an order to prosecute anyone involved in assaulting the channel, the reporter said.
President Michel Aoun, who returned to Beirut from Jordan Tuesday evening, contacted local officials to resolve the conflict, Al-Jadeed said.