Lebanese journalist sentenced to jail over Facebook post criticising security services
Lebanese journalist Adam Chamseddine was on Thursday sentenced in absentia by a military tribunal to three months in prison for criticising Lebanon's State Security agency. The Al-Jadeed TV correspondent had lambasted the security forces for arresting a Syrian man with AIDS.
"[This] sends a clear message from the state and security agencies… that any attempt to criticise these agencies will be faced by such procedures, namely, to face prosecution on a military level," Chamseddine told The Daily Star.
The Facebook post in question criticised the security agency for arresting a Syrian man, allegedly because he had AIDS, and disclosing the suspect’s name in an official statement.
State Security announced in October that it had arrested a Syrian man with AIDS, but claimed in a later statement that the man had not been arrested due to his illness.
The security agency claimed he was arrested because he was working as a tattoo artist without having obtained the necessary approval to use medical equipment, such as needles. Instead, it said in the statement, he had only obtained a permit to work as a hairdresser.
Chamseddine alleged that State Security had advised clients of the tattoo parlour to get checked for AIDS, and criticised the agency for releasing details of the investigation before the detainee had been able to see a lawyer.
Chamseddine said did not appear in tribunal because he did not receive adequate legal notice from the military tribunal.
The journalist questioned why the tribunal had made no attempt to contact him at his home address if he was being tried as a civilian, rather than a journalist. He had instead been subpoenaed three times at the Al-Jadeed offices. Chamseddine said he was not present on any of those occasions.
The tribunal had also summoned Chamseddine for questioning in late January, but the journalist claimed he had not received any legal notice.
"There are many terrorists in this country who need military courts," tweeted fellow Al-Jadeed correspondent Allaa Salloum.
"Unfortunately sometimes speaking the truth is a lethal bullet in the body of the corrupt people, so suspicions are mixed and a journalist becomes a terrorist."
Chamseddine said he plans to appeal the court's decision.
Sentencing in Lebanese military courts is "inconsistent" and "arbitrary", and those sentenced face a "limited right of appeal", a 2017 Human Rights Watch report said.
The number of legal cases filed over online posts more than quadrupled between 2017 and 2018, according to digital media rights group Social Media Exchange (SMEX). At least 38 cases were filed over posts, mostly criticising politicians, security agencies or the president, in 2018.