Reuters and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, the news agency’s chief correspondent for Jordan and Syria, are still waiting to be told why Khalidi was denied entry after landing at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport on 2 August.
A Jordanian national, Khalidi flew to Beirut to reinforce the news agency’s personnel there ahead of the second anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, but was stopped at immigration control and was taken to a police security office, where he was questioned.
After he refused to comply with a request to hand over his laptop and mobile phone for inspection, he was detained for several hours before being told he would be put on a flight back to Jordan. After seeking an explanation of several weeks, Reuters finally received a letter from the interior ministry that simply said the Lebanese authorities took a “sovereign decision” to deny him entry. No other explanation was provided.
Khalidi, who has gone to Lebanon several times in the past, has worked in an entirely professional manner for Reuters for 27 years, often covering war zones. He was arrested and deported from Syria at the start of the conflict there in 2011, and was awarded the Samir Kassir press freedom prize the following year.
Lebanon’s decision to deny him entry after trying to examine the contents of his journalistic equipment could constitute a disturbing precedent for other journalists in the future.
“The decision to deny Suleiman Al-Khalidi entry constitutes a new obstacle to the free flow of news and information in Lebanon,” Samir Kassir Foundation executive director Ayman Mhanna said. “The Samir Kassir Foundation warns against such decisions at a time when the Lebanese people are relying more than ever on journalists to cover their suffering and investigate the reasons for the country’s economic collapse.”
Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, added: “We urge the Lebanese authorities to allow Suleiman Al-Khalidi to practice his profession freely in Lebanon. If they are unable to provide a clear and valid reason for denying him entry, their decision is by this very fact entirely arbitrary and must be rescinded.”
This is not the first time that a journalist has been denied entry to Lebanon. According to the Samir Kassir Foundation, Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC anchor with US and Egyptian dual nationality, and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a Vice News documentary maker with US and Kuwaiti dual nationality, were denied entry in 2018 and 2016 respectively. But in their case, there was a specific reason: their passports had Israeli visas because they had previously reported in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Lebanon is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.