Reporters caught between activists, police during Lebanon’s parliamentary elections
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the harassment and acts of violence by political activists and members of the security forces against journalists who covered Lebanon’s parliamentary elections. The authorities must carry out an investigation and must end impunity for crimes of violence against media personnel, RSF says.
Ever since the anti-government protests in October 2019, Lebanon’s journalists have had to fend for themselves against growing threats and violence by activists and a disproportionate use of force by police. TV reporters have been interrupted during stand-ups, some have had their microphones snatched.
The parliamentary elections held in Lebanon on 15 May saw yet more unchecked violence against reporters.
Megaphone news website reporter Hussein Bassal was badly beaten by Hezbollah activists in the southern village of Ansar after covering electoral violations by Hezbollah and Amal party members at a polling station in the village.
In the account he gave to RSF, which was corroborated by eyewitnesses, Bassal said he was accosted by a man who grabbed his press accreditation and threatened him. He was then “thrown to the ground and kicked” by a score of Hezbollah activists. He finally managed to escape the enraged activists and was taken by soldiers to the American University Hospital in Beirut, where he was treated for several fractures.
In a video that went viral after being posted online by Megaphone, Bassal described the attack in detail and said he felt that “Hezbollah has a phobia of the camera.”
The north Beirut district of Dekouane saw another disturbing press freedom violation, this time by members of the security forces, who prevented Skynewsarabia reporter Salman Andary and cameraman Mohammed Hanoun from broadcasting live from one of the district’s voting stations.
Maher Qamar, a reporter for the Hezbollah-owned TV channel Al-Manar, was heading with a crew to cover voting at a polling station in Machghara, a small town in the Beqaa Valley, when individuals blocked their way, attacked their vehicle, and beat Qamar, causing several fractures.
“The environment is increasingly hostile for journalists in Lebanon,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We demand that the Lebanese authorities carry out an investigation and identify those who have attacked journalists so that they can be tried and convicted in the appropriate manner. If these attacks remain unpunished, the problem will keep growing and will become harder and harder to rein in.”
The repeated violence is symptomatic of a culture of impunity that constitutes an alarming threat to press freedom in Lebanon. The authorities took no significant action in response to any of the attacks against journalists after the Beirut port explosion in 2020 or to political commentator Lokman Slim’s murder in 2021, which RSF referred to the UN.