The three journalists, Dima Sadek, Luna Safwan and Mahassen Moursel, have themselves denounced the intense hate campaigns that targeted them in turn in the space of a few days.
Sadek, who nowadays works for the independent news website Daraj, has been the target of intermittent threats ever since the start of a big wave of anti-government protests a year ago. She received another on 29 September and, as usual, posted a screenshot of it on Twitter. At the same time, she is the target of several libel suits, one of which was brought by Lebanon’s former foreign minister in February and another, in May by the governor of the Bank of Lebanon, whose name appeared in story she wrote about suspected corruption.
Safwan has been hounded online since 1 October after posting a tweet critical of Hezbollah, the Shia movement that is one of Lebanon’s most powerful political parties. Her tweet was retweeted by an Israeli TV channel, which led Hezbollah supporters to accuse her of “justifying the Israeli narrative” about the party. A member of Safwan’s family even disowned her publicly.
On 3 October, a wave of social media hatred was unleashed against Moursel, an investigative reporter, after it was falsely reported on Twitter that she had been arrested for collaborating with Israel, which is still officially at war with Israel. She filed a complaint in Beirut on 5 October against the source of the fake news tweet.
This is not the first time that Lebanese women journalists have been harassed online. Last August, MTV reporter Zena Basile posted a video showing how she had been aggressed and insulted while out reporting. Activists responded by sharing the video on social media to encourage others to step up the harassment and attacks against her and other MTV reporters.
Sexist prejudice against women journalists compounds communal tension and hostilities in a country where, as a result of the media’s polarization, journalists are often accused of betrayal if their reporting is deemed unfavourable to the political party or religious community to which they are supposed to belong. The condemnation is often harsher if the journalists are women, while the presence of women in the media in general tends to annoy conservatives.
“The attacks on Dima Sadek, Luna Safwan and Mahassen Moursel are disgraceful and must stop at once,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “These women have been subjected to an unjustified wave of hostility because they are independent and refuse to follow the editorial line of the media of the community to which they are supposed to belong. Being women is an additional difficulty that exposes them to all sorts of sexist insults of varying intensity. These threats must be taken seriously and everything must be done to protect the victims.”
Lebanon is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.