Lebanon: RSF decries violent protests against TV channel
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the acts of violence that took place during two days of protests and rioting by scores of angry demonstrators outside offices of the privately-owned TV channel Al-Jadeed in the Beirut district of Tallet el-Khayat on February 13 and 14.
Demonstrators began gathering outside Al-Jadeed on 13 February in protest against references in the previous day’s episode of the satirical programme “Douma Karasi” to Musa al-Sadr, the Lebanese Shia imam who founded the AMAL movement during the civil war and disappeared during a visit to Libya in 1978.
The demonstrators, some of whom brandished AMAL flags, thought that the broadcast and its references to Sadr’s disappearance had insulted the movement’s founder.
Al-Jadeed vice-president Karma Khayat told RSF that the protesters injured two cameramen and inflicted considerable material damage on the Al-Jadeed building. The TV channel filed a complaint with the prosecutor-general on 14 February against AMAL members filmed during the attack and against the owners of social networks that incited hatred against Al-Jadeed.
“We condemn the acts of violence by demonstrators against this TV channel,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The Lebanese authorities must investigate this grave incident and must ensure that those responsible for the violence are brought to justice, so that it does not go unpunished and is not thereby tolerated.”
The violence intensified on the second day, 14 February, when protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the building and tried to force their way inside. According to Al-Jadeed, they set fire to the entrance, broke windows, smashed a TV camera and inflicted other damage.
The violence was condemned by several political leaders including Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun, who sent troops to help the police put an end to the protests. Information minister Melhem Riachi called the attacks “unacceptable.”
“It is not enough that the authorities restored calm,” Al-Jadeed’s vice-president said. “The real measures are those that must be taken at the judicial level to punish the people who attacked Al-Jadeed’s headquarters (...) These attacks are an insult not just to the media and free speech in Lebanon but also to the country’s image.”
This is not the first time that Al-Jadeed has been the target of violence. Last July, gunmen opened fire on the office of Tahsin Khayat, the TV channel’s owner and chairman of its board.
Lebanon is ranked 98th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.