News

March 14, 2003 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Prosecutor launches investigation into daily An-Nahar


Reporters Without Borders wrote today to public prosecutor Adnan Addoum urging him to drop the judicial investigation launched yesterday against the liberal daily An-Nahar, one of Lebanon's leading newspapers, because of a column on 11 March headlined "Letter to God" that provoked the ire of Muslim leaders. In the article, journalist Akl Awit, who is known as very pious Christian poet, called on God "to no longer remain with his arms crossed and to rein in the United States" in order to prevent an attack on Iraq. "Press freedom is apparently no longer accepted in Lebanon, once an example in the Arab world," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to the public prosecutor. "Lebanon's judicial system should guarantee freedom of thought and harmony between religions, but instead its inquisitional attitude will just aggravate religious tension." The letter added: "A newspaper is the victim of violent threats, people call for it to be banned from distribution and burned, and who does the prosecutor decide to prosecute? The newspaper itself! A column is by definition the expression of an opinion and in our view, it contained nothing that could be considered defamatory of any religious belief. There is no justification for this judicial investigation." Awit's column angered Sheikh Taha Saboungi, a mufti in Tripoli, the major city of northern Lebanon and one with a Sunni majority. Calling it "blasphemous" and "more harmful than Satanism," he publicly urged the prosecutor's office and the information and interior ministries to intervene. On the same day as the column was published, Muslim religious leaders met in Dar El-Fatwa with "youth" representatives from Tripoli and issued a statement calling for distribution of the newspaper in Tripoli to be banned and for all copies to be burned. The newspaper's owner and managing editor, Gibran Toueni, press organisations and journalists' associations reacted the same day by condemning the "threats" and "calls for dissension and disorder" and accusing the Muslim leaders of making statements that were "hostile to press freedom." The newspaper also protested against the "threats" in a letter to the public prosecutor on 12 March.