Lebanon, a country often praised for it’s distinguished level of freedoms compared to other neighbouring countries, is up against a new challenge today.
The situation began to change in the past few months as many journalists, activists and sometimes regular citizens were summoned to investigation due to things they had posted on their Social media accounts and specifically: Facebook.
Lebanon’s cybercrime bureau has been super active for the past 10 days, at least 3 activists were summoned for investigation because of posts they had written on Facebook. Tonight, activists are organising a silent collective protest in Beirut to condemn the latest trend.
The reasons why these activists and citizens were summoned vary: Charbel Khoury for example was accused of Blasphemy & thus forced to shut down his Facebook account for 1 whole month in a decision made by judge Ghada Aoun who later explained via facebook itself, that the decision was in “Charbel’s best interest to protect him from threats he got due to what he has posted on Facebook”. Activists were not at all pleased with the way this issue was handled and wondered: “is this the only action available to protect us? Forcing us to close our accounts to avoid online bullying?”
Imad Bazzi, journalist, activist and advocacy specialist was summoned because of a campaign he lead and took part of on Facebook. The campaign aimed at highlighting the violations committed by a new resort on the Lebanese shore called: Eden Bay. Bazzi, along other activists called for action -online- against the new resort by asking users to give the resort a bad ranking on different Social media platforms.
Another activist, Mohamad Awwad, was summoned for his action on Social media and asked few questions then immediately released. he was summoned by the Lebanese General Security though, not by the Cybercrime bureau.
The third person to be targeted was Eli El-Khoury who had written a very elaborated Facebook post regarding the economical situation in Lebanon , but soon after he was told that he is no longer needed for investigation. The Bureau dropped the case.
This morning, a young lady called Rawan Khatib got a call from the cybercrime bureau, she was asked to head there tomorrow at 10:00 AM for investigation. No clear reasons were given to her about why she was summoned. And only few minutes ago, news emerged about a fifth person, Khaled Abouchy who was also summoned by the Cybercrime bureau in because of his Social media posts specifically on Facebook.
Amnesty International highlighted the issue of freedoms in Lebanon weeks ago by explaining how these institutions are trying to intimidate activists and journalists in Lebanon through these investigations and pledges.
These so-called pledges are no more than an intimidation tactic that has no legal basis in Lebanese law, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty Internationals Middle East Research Director.
Yet, people are still being summoned and any of us could be next.