First: Introduction

“All means all” is one of the main slogans chanted in Lebanon’s demonstrations that broke out on 17 October 2019. The extraordinary size and geographic reach of these protests means that, for the first time in the country’s history, the Lebanese people mobilized to cross any sectarian lines or differences as they stood united against the entire political class, which is responsible for the deterioration of political and economic conditions, after the government announced plans to impose new taxes on gasoline, tobacco and voice-over-internet calls. The protests’ slogan indicates that the calls for ending the country’s sectarian-based regime, and relying on “capability and specialization in public jobs, the judiciary, the military, security, public, and joint institutions, and in the independent agencies” have become a national demand amid the sectarian tensions that threaten the national state.

The sectarian divisions in public jobs have negatively affected the human rights situation in Lebanon. Also, the country’s geographical proximity with the Israeli occupation forces serves as a cover to suppress freedom of opinion and expression. On the other hand, media institutions in Lebanon have suffered from a suffocating financial crisis due to the weak advertising production industry because of the high printing costs, which prompted Joseph Kosseifi – Head of the Press Editors Syndicate, to demand a legislative session on media-related laws to introduce a new modern media law.

Second: Legislative and legal developments

Lebanon didn’t witness any legislative changes pertaining to freedom of opinion and expression during 2019 (1). However, under pressure from nationwide protests that swept the country, the government adopted on 21 October, in an official document, a package of resolutions to contain the crisis, including; abolishing the Ministry of Information no later than 30 November 2019, drafting laws that seek to restore stolen public funds and establishing an anti-corruption committee by the end of the year (2).

Third: Cases with the most impact on freedom of expression

Freedom of expression in Lebanon has been affected by a number of issues that garnered widespread press attention, both in Lebanon and the Arab world. On October 17, Byblos International (music) Festival announced that it had dropped from its line-up a concert by Mashrou’ Leila pop band, which was scheduled to take place in Byblos, North Lebanon on August 9, following fierce backlash that reached to death threats from Christian groups claiming that the band’s songs “insult Christianity”. Another critical issue was the Lebanese Ministry of Labor’s decision to activate labor laws that oblige all foreign workers, including Palestinians, to acquire the necessary work permits that would grant them the legal status to work in the country.

Fourth: Violations of freedom of expression 

Prevention from work/Ban

The Lebanese authorities had prevented a number of festive and music activities under the pretext of “insulting religions”, “having ties to Israel”, or “breaching Sharia rules”.

For instance, Lebanon’s General Security office barred the International Brazilian Metal Band “Sepultura” from entering the country to perform a concert in Beirut on the 28th of April, over the band’s alleged “insults towards Christianity” and “past support of Israel”; claiming that the band members are devil worshipers, had previously performed in Israel and that they filmed a video clip supporting Israel.

Also, on July 16, the Lebanese security forces prevented a march for Palestinian refugees, organized by Palestinian institutions and societies operating in Lebanon, from heading to the parliament headquarters in the capital Beirut, in protest against the Ministry of Labor’s decision to compel Palestinian workers to obtain official work licenses to be able to work legally Lebanese territory.

Furthermore, on July 30, Byblos International Festival announced the cancelation of Mashrou’ Leila pop band’s performance, which was scheduled for August 9, following threats to kill the festival’s fans over claims that band’s songs “insult Christianity”.

The financial crisis witnessed by Lebanon has also played a clear role in closing Lebanon’s old newspapers and television channels. For example, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the head of the Future Movement (FM) Saad al-Hariri announced, on September 18, the suspension of work at his “Future” TV satellite television channel for the same financial reasons that led to the closing of Al-Mustaqbal (Future) newspaper.”


The role of censorship became clear through the Lebanese General Security’s intervention to remove pictures or topics from foreign newspapers that are being distributed and operating in the country. For instance, on 7 February 2019, a caricature by the Italian cartoonist, Marco de Angelis, was censored by the Lebanese authorities for depicting the Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with lightning bolts coming out of his head, seemingly zapping protesters around him. The cartoon was banned from the February 7 issue of the French weekly “Courrier International” after it was covered by gray non-transparent stickers.

Blocking websites/services

Lebanon’s Ministry of Communications used the policy of blocking websites to crackdown on critical voices and to attempt to appease conservative groups. On 21 April 2019, the Lebanese authorities blocked “This is” website specializing in documenting violations against foreign workers in Lebanon. Also, on May 24, upon the Public Prosecution’s approval, the Director General of Investment and Maintenance at the Ministry of Communications, Bassel Al Ayoubi, ordered the blocking of the popular gay dating application Grindr, which is widely used by the LGBT+ community.


Journalists, social media activists and protesters had been subjected to a large-scale during the year, either by the security forces or by members of different Lebanese sects. For example, Lebanese satellite channel Al-Jadeed TV’s headquarters was the target of an attack by unknown assailants who threw a hand grenade at the building from a four-wheel drive vehicle before they fled the scene. No one was harmed in the blast, which damaged the channel’s building and the nearby cars.

In another incident, a number of journalists were beaten, verbally abused, and had their cameras broken while they were covering the funeral of the late George Zureik, on February 9, in front of the Church of St. Barbara in Ras Masqa in Koura.

Richard Sammour, a photographer for the local daily Al-Joumhouria also reported being attacked, kicked and punched by some young people belonging to the Lebanese Democratic Party, while he was covering security events in Khaldeh town, south of Beirut, although he showed his press card.

During the peaceful demonstrations that have plagued various Lebanese territories since October 17, the media documented numerous violations against the right to peaceful protest and against media workers while doing their job covering protests. For instance, Hezbollah and Amal movement supporters attacked, on October 29, anti-government protesters with sticks at Riad al-Solh and Martyrs Squares in Beirut, in conjunction with the Lebanese Prime Minister announcing his resignation. The attacker also assaulted the crew of the local satellite channel MTV, which led to the interruption of its broadcast.


Imprisonment is one of the methods used by the Lebanese authorities to silence mouths and suppress freedom of opinion and expression in Lebanon. For example, on Monday, 13 May 2019, the judicial police arrested dual Lebanese-American citizen Adnan Farhat from Habboush area, Nabatieh Governorate, after he expressed his anger at Lebanese politicians in general and criticized in particular Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and his family on Whatsapp. Farhat was released on bail of 500 thousand Lebanese pounds (about 330 US dollars) after spending two days in detention.

On May 18, the Public Prosecutor issued an arrest warrant against the head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers Beshara al-Asmar, over his remarks made about late Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, shortly before a press conference at the Confederation’s headquarters on the afternoon of May 17.

In violation of the publishing laws, the General Security arrested the young man, Mohamed Wahba, at Beirut International Airport on July 18, before he was handed over to the intelligence services to be tried before the military judiciary on charges of; “insulting and slandering the president of the republic accusing him of treason” and publishing comments on social media that would “stir up sectarian strife”. On 30 July, the permanent military court declared it had no jurisdiction over Wahba’s trial.


Among the most repressive methods to curb freedom of expression in Lebanon is represented in the complaints and cases that had been brought either by the Public Prosecution or Intelligence Services during 2019. For example, lawyer Ziyad Hobeish and his wife Lieutenant Colonel Suzan Hajj, former head of the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau, had both filed a lawsuit before Beirut Publications Court against “Al-Mustaqbal” TV, the “Future Web” and correspondent Nahid Yusef accusing them of “fabricating crimes of libel, slander and defamation and false news”, after the respondents published several reports about the prosecution of Suzan Hajj on a charge of “fabricating a case of spying for Israel against artist Ziad Itani. ”

In another case, the presiding criminal judge in Beirut issued, on July 24, a decision obliging artist Mohammad Iskandar and his son poet and composer Fares Iskandar to omit the phrase “Housing Banque” from a song dubbed ‘Where did you get that from’ song. Consequently, on July 29, the Appeal Public Prosecution Office in Mount Lebanon filed a lawsuit against Iskandar, his son, and video producer Wissam Kayal on charges of “libel, slander and defamation”, before it referred them to the Publications Appeal Court in Baabda.

In August 2019, the board of Dar Al-Sayyad publishing house filed a lawsuit- before the Anti-Cybercrime Bureau- against its representative in the Press Syndicate Council, George Traboulsi accusing him of “libel and defamation”, after he posted on his Facebook page a picture of the Said Freiha blaming his sons of the publishing house’s poor conditions, a matter that the house’s managers deemed “offensive” to them.

In the same context, the editor-in-chief of the “Nidaa Al-Watan” newspaper, Bechara Charbel, is being tried before the Publications Court on charges of “slandering and insulting presidents” against the backdrop of an article published, on September 12, in the newspaper’s headline tiled “New ambassadors in Baabda… Welcome to Khamenei’s Republic”. Charbel’s case is still underway as of the time of writing this report.

Additionally, the Beirut Court of Appeal ruled, on October 4, to fine Lebanese journalist Fida Itani a total of 2 million Lebanese pounds as compensation to the plaintiff for the damages incurred. It also obliged him to pay all fees and expenses in the libel lawsuit filed by Hezbollah’s liaison and coordination unit chief, Hajj Wafiq, against the backdrop of an article Itani wrote and published on his blog “Godo told us”.

A group of Lebanese lawyers launched, on October 8, a legal case against The Economist magazine, accusing it of “sullying Lebanon’s reputation its financial standing” in addition to “showing contempt to Lebanon famous cedar tree falling off the red and white background of the Lebanese flag”, after it published an article tackling the country’s poor economic situation and how it is susceptible to breakdown, accompanied by a photo of the Lebanese flag falling apart and the cedar falls from it.

Also, on October 16, a number of media workers filed a lawsuit before the Public Prosecution in Mount-Lebanon against media professional Maria Maalouf accusing her of: “insulting religious rituals, violating the sanctity of martyrs, fabricating crimes, and inciting to sectarian strife, conflict between sects, conspiracy, sedition, libel and defamation”, after she posted tweets on social media, in which she likened Hezbollah to “ISIS”.


Intimidation has been widely used by Lebanese authorities to suppress dissidents, as it was used before by different sects against each other. For instance, in a move aimed at spreading fear among journalists in Al-Akhbar newspaper, Security forces stormed into the Al-Akhbar office in the Concorde Building in Beirut, on May 9, and requested from the management the footage of the CCTV cameras. The raid was a response to the newspaper’s publication of leaked diplomatic cables between the Lebanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. LBCI TV channel’s media professional Dima Sadiq was also subjected to violent attacks and smear campaigns as well as threats of rape, after she reopened the debate on the Mount Lebanon’s Hadath municipality decision to ban the sale of Christian homes in the area or to rent them to any other sect.

For the third year in a row, organizers of Beirut Pride, an association supporting LGBT+ rights in Lebanon, canceled on September 25 the opening concert of an event, following threats and pressure from religious institutions in addition to reports and statements from security authorities threatening the event participants with violence.

Fifth: Most accusations against freedom of expression

Following are the most common charges used to restrict freedom of expression in Lebanon during 2019: insulting and slandering the president of the republic accusing him of treason, stirring sectarian strife, fabricating false news, insulting and defaming presidents, sullying Lebanon’s reputation its financial standing, showing contempt to Lebanon famous cedar tree of the Lebanese flag, insulting religious rituals, violating the sanctity of martyrs, fabricating crimes, and inciting to sectarian strife, conflict between sects, conspiracy, sedition, libel and defamation, and having links with Israel.

Sixth: Victims

Victims of freedom of expression in Lebanon in 2019 included those who participated in demonstrations, protests and sit-ins including that of Riad al-Solh and Martyrs Squares in Beirut and the Palestinians sit-in, in addition to: Mashrou’ Leila pop band, organizers of Beirut Pride supporting LGBT+ rights, Brazilian Metal Band “Sepultura”, Italian cartoonist, Marco de Angelis. The list also included a group of journalists, media professionals and artists such as: Richard Sammour, a photographer for the local daily Al-Joumhouria, MTV crew, journalists George Traboulsi, Bechara Charbel, and Fida Itani, and media workers Maria Maalouf, Dima Sadiq, and Yazbek Wahba, and artists Mohamed Iskandar, his son poet and composer Fares Iskandar and video producer Wissam Kayal, in addition to the head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers Beshara al-Asmar, Moahmed Wahba and citizen Adnan Farhat (from Habboush).

The list also included: “The Economist” magazine, “This is Lebanon” website specializing in documenting violations of foreign workers in Lebanon, and the popular gay dating application “Grindr”.



  1. Laws adopted during 2109- Last accessed date: 27 October 2019-
  2. A news report titled “What are the main reforms approved by Lebanese government following nationwide protests?”- Published on: 21 October 2019- Last accessed date: 27 October 2019-ما-هي-الإصلاحات-الرئيسية-التي-أقرتها-الحكومة-اللبنانية-بعد-الاحتجاجات-في-لبنان