Human Rights

Activists In Lebanon Fear Restrictions To Freedom Of Expression

Middle East

Activists and journalists in Lebanon say that a new decree against fake news is being used to silence legitimate news about the country's worsening economy, fearing that such restrictions will increase if not opposed.

When Amer posted a Tweet from his personal account, commenting on the worsening economic situation in Lebanon, he did not expect that he would end up having a confrontation with the Lebanese Government’s department for combating cyber-crimes. His case is the latest in a series of incidents that have occurred since the Lebanese Presidency issued a new decree against fake news. Activists say that the decree is being used to silence legitimate journalists and opinions while covering up Lebanon’s deteriorating economy.

Amer says that he does not believe his tweet to have been against the decree, noting that what he talked about was a personal experience in his bank where he was prevented from withdrawing dollars from his personal account. Indeed, Amer says that since the decree was issued, there have been many similar infringements against freedom of expression and opinion.

Similar stories were reported by other activists who say that they’ve been called up by authorities and forced to sign pledges to not protest again. Amer says that such incidents never happened before in Lebanon, describing it as a very dangerous precedent. According to him, the pledges that security forces made activists sign have no legal basis and that people are right to oppose them. Indeed, there are fears among rights groups that the deteriorating economy will be used as an excuse to tighten restrictions to freedom of expression, adding that the authorities have already gotten more careless on such issues over the past two years.

Such fears are especially common among the Syrian Opposition activists who made their homes in Lebanon. Since the Lebanese Government started pushing for refugees in the country to return to Syria, activists say that a number of prominent Opposition activists have also been deported, putting their lives at risk. The most recent such case is of Ramez al-Sayed who went missing in Beirut some days ago, with fears that security forces are preparing to deport him.