September 21 - 2001

For the Francophone summit, RSF asks for the release of two journalists

With only one month remaining to the Francophone Summit, to be held in October in Lebanon, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF), asks the French authorities, and President Jacques Chirac, to put pressure the Lebanese government to obtain the release of journalists Antoine Bassil and Habib Younis, in jail respectively since 16 August 2001 and 19 August 2001. RSF recalls Article 1 of the "Francophone Charter", which stipulates that "Francophonie has, as an aim to help (…) sustain human rights." "It is inadmissible that such practices exist in a country which expressed satisfaction at hosting the Francophone Summit," said Robert Ménard, general secretary of RSF.

Antoine Bassil, correspondent in Lebanon for the Saudi radio station MBC, was arrested on 16 August 2001, at his home in Ballouné (north-east of Beirut) by two men from army intelligence services in plainclothes. Habib Younes, editor of the Lebanese desk of the Saudi daily Al Hayat, was also arrested at his home in Jbeil (north of Beirut), on 18 August 2001, by intelligence agents. Both were accused of "contact with the enemy", meaning Israelis, and they risk from fifteen years in jail to the death penalty, if they are found guilty.

According to the wife of Habib Younes, her husband was subjected to "psychological pressure". The journalist wrote a letter, on 21 September, to French president Jacques Chirac, asking him to personally petition Lebanese authorities to obtain his release. Since his father is in very poor health, Habib Younis wants to be by his side. These two arrests follow raids from 5 to 8 August 2001, by army intelligence agents, against anti-Syrian Christian opposition groups.

 

 

August 31 2001

Two journalists still in jail

In a letter to the President of the Republic, Emile Lahoud, RSF protested against the detention of journalists Antoine Bassil and Habib Younes. The organisation asked him to intervene personally in order to have these journalists released. "We are very concerned about these two journalists. They risk from fifteen years in jail to the death penalty if they are found guilty" said Robert Ménard, genreral secretary of the organisation. "We are also very worried about recent lawsuits against the daily An Nahar. It is inadmissible that such practices exist in a country which expressed satisfaction at hosting the Fench-speaking Summit", he added. RSF noted that on 21 August, in a letter to President Lahoud, it asked for the release of the two journalists.

According to information collected by RSF, Antoine Bassil, correspondant in Lebanon of the Saudi radio station MBC, was arrested on 16 August 2001, at his Ballouné home (north-east of Beirut) by two men from army intelligence services, in plainclothes. Habib Younes, editing secretary of the Lebanese desk of the Saudi daily Al Hayat, was also arrested at his home, in Jbeil (north of Beirut), on 18 August 2001, by intelligence service men. Both accused of "contact with the enemy", they risk from fifteen years in jail to the death penalty, if they are found guilty.

The two journalists' homes were searched, including their libraries and their personal archives. According to his lawyer, Boutros Harb, Habib Younes, allegedly signed a full confession "through fear  of violence and under constraint". According to the wife of Habib Younes, her husband was subjected to "psychological pressure".

These two arrests follow raids from 5 to 8 August 2001 by army intelligence services, in anti Syrian Christian opposition groups.

Moreover, the daily An Nahar is charged for "defaming the army", for an article published on 9 August on the Lebanese army and military service. An action has been brought against the author of the article, Raphi Madoyan, candidate in the 2000 parliamentary elections, and the editor-in-chief at An Nahar, Joseph Nasr.

 

August 21 2001

Two journalists arrested

In a letter to President Emile Lahoud, RSF protested the arrests of journalists Antoine Bassil and Habib Younis and expressed its profound concern about the charges weighing against them. "These arrests were carried out illegally. Freedom of expression is increasingly threatened in Lebanon today. There is a clear determination on the part of the intelligence services to muzzle the media," said Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. Moreover, RSF recalled that on 9 August 2001, a Council of Ministers press release included remarks that threaten media pluralism in Lebanon.

According to information collected by RSF, on 16 August, three men from the army's intelligence services arrested Antoine Bassil, a correspondent from the Saudi Arabian television station MBC, at his home in Ballouné (north-east of Beirut). The Military Tribunal is prosecuting the journalist for "contact with the enemy, entry into enemy territory, forming an association in order to sabotage the state's authority and damaging relations with a brother country" and "transmission of information to the enemy." The journalist could face the death penalty if he is found guilty.

On 19 August, Habib Younis, a senior editor at the daily Al Hayat, was arrested at his home in Jbeil (north of Beirut) by intelligence services agents. The director of military intelligence, Raymond Azar, informed Melhem Karam, president of the journalists' union, that Habib Younis' arrest came "before he went to a planned Sunday meeting in Cyprus with [Odid] Zaray," an Israeli official. Al Hayath stated that the journalist could not have gone to Cyprus since he was scheduled to be on duty at the newspaper's office that day. The daily added that it was informed that Habib Younis' name had been "mentioned during interrogation of Antoine Bassil," who allegedly stated that he had arranged a meeting for the journalist with Odid Zaray. The two arrests were carried out without arrest warrants and the journalists were interrogated without lawyers present. These events have taken place in the context of a series of raids by the army's intelligence services against anti-Syrian Christian militias since early August.

Moreover, on 9 August, two journalists were assaulted and a third journalist was arrested in front of the law courts in Beirut. They were covering a demonstration against a wave of arrests of activists and sympathisers of the Free National Current (Courant patriotique libre, CPL) and the Lebanese Forces (Forces libanaises) on 5 and 7 August in Beirut. Hussein el Moulla, an Associated Press agency photographer, was beaten by an intelligence services agent in civilian clothes who was mingling with the crowd of demonstrators, just as he was taking a picture of him. Sami Ayad, a photographer from the daily "An Nahar", was photographing demonstrators who were roughed up by intelligence services agents when unidentified persons demanded that he hand over his film. He refused and was beaten by them until he managed to take flight. Yehia Houjairi, a cameraman from the official Kuwaiti television station, was arrested by police officers as he was filming the demonstration. The president of the photographers' union had to intervene in order to secure his release a short time later.

That same day, following the Council of Ministers' meeting, Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi read a statement and said he was "responsible for putting the clauses of the media law into effect," in order to stop the "mistakes by media outlets which threaten state security." The previous evening, the National Audio-visual Council (Conseil national de l'audiovisuel, CNA) sent a document to the Council of Ministers concerning audio-visual media outlets' coverage of 7 and 8 August events. The report specified that the MTV television station (reputed to be close to General Aoun) "did not respect the pluralistic character of the information..., incited the concern of viewers by provoking fear that there would be a change in the nature of Lebanon's democratic regime...[and] openly defied the political and security institutions, thereby threatening public order."