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In Lebanon, journalists report attacks and a decline in freedom of speech

A month later, on 5 December, another attack followed. Hezbollah supporters tried to break the security cameras the family had installed. The attackers broke her brother’s nose and threatened the family, telling them to leave the neighborhood or else they would be killed.

Seif El Dine is no stranger to the southern suburbs, where Hezbollah has a strong influence. “This is where I used to live, so I know the problems they have created and how they treat people who are against them,” she said.

Beirut is a divided city. Districts are often split on a sectarian basis and neighborhoods are often controlled by political and sectarian parties.

After the attack, Seif El Dine and her family were forced to leave their house and moved to another neighborhood where the Shiite party has no influence.

Official collusion

After the attack, Seif El Dine claimed the police told her there is no need for them to come unless someone is dead or wounded. She saw this as collusion by the police officers in the neighborhood, who she claims are under the control of Hezbollah.

Lebanese Internal Security Forces claimed in a tweet that they are following Seif El Dine’s case. She claims that when she went to the police station to report the attackers, she was instead interrogated under the charge of defamation and slander by the attackers.

Seif El Dine’s case became a matter of public opinion and received media attention. The Press Syndicate, she said, gave her no support: “the syndicate does not really serve the new generation of journalists and has done almost nothing to support and protect them.”

openDemocracy tried to reach the Press Syndicate for a comment, but received no response.

“This is why freedom of speech in the country is getting worse,” Seif El Dine added. This was noticeable during the 2019 protests, when multiple attacks by security forces and thugs against journalists covering the protests were documented.

The Legal Agenda published testimonies from 11 journalists who were assaulted by members of the Internal Security Forces or from supporters of political parties. Attacks included physical assault, breaking of equipment, or even the distribution of journalists’ phone numbers in order to bully and threaten them.

Jad Shahrur, media officer at the Skies Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, explained that before the Lebanese protests, violations against journalists mostly had to do with legal prosecutions for slander and defamation, “but today the infringements have taken a direct violent form”.

Cyberbullying

Violence against journalists is not only physical, but online as well. Bots and multiple accounts are unleashed on journalists and activists who speak out against the political elite.

This was the case of the freelance journalist, Luna Safwan, who received threats from accounts supporting the two major Shiite parties in the country, Hezbollah and Amal Movement. When one of her tweets criticizing Hezbollah was retweeted by an Israeli news channel at the end of October last year, an online campaign was launched against her accusing her of collaborating with Israel, which is considered treason under Lebanese law.

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