ARTICLE 19 condemns the judgment in absentia issued on 27 November 2021 by the Lebanese Military Court imposing a prison sentence against journalist Radwan Mortada. It also calls on the Lebanese authorities to drop the charges against Mortada and to stop bringing civilians before the military courts.
Beirut’s military court issued a judgment in absentia for journalist Radwan Mortada to serve one year and a month in prison, without having notified him of the trial date, on charges of what it considered to be “defamation against the military institution” for his position on the Lebanese Army’s responsibility in the 2020 Beirut Port explosion that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.1https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/12/beirut-explosion-100-days-on-calls-grow-for-international-inquiry
Lebanese journalist Radwan Mortada specialises in security issues and worked for Al Jadeed TV and Al-Akhbar newspapers. He had followed up on the Beirut port explosion story, reporting on it for Al-Akhbar.
ARTICLE 19 expresses its concern regarding the prosecution of civilians before military courts, which must be applied only for conflicts between military personnel in the context of their military work, and without extending its jurisdiction to trying civilians for criticising the military. We note in this regard that the Human Rights Committee affirmed in its General Comment No. 34 of 2011 that “State parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
ARTICLE 19’s MENA Regional Director Saloua Ghazouani said: “Prosecuting journalists before military courts instead of the Court of Publications, as stipulated in the Lebanese Publications Law, is an intimidation of them, and a threat to their work and their role in monitoring public affairs and in investigating cases related to the work of the authorities in order to detect shortcomings and corruption. In addition, this intimidation can extend to all individuals who express their opinions and positions on issues of public concern.”
ARTICLE 19 emphasises that military trials of civilians, as in the case of journalist Radwan Mortada, are in contravention to the right to a fair trial, which guarantees the right of each person to defend himself before a competent, independent, and impartial court in accordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 157 of the law on Military Justice, which provides for the prosecution of civilians before military courts in response of their positions and opinions regarding the army, is contrary to Article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion. The repeated recourse2Article 157 of the law on Military Justice has been invoked on several occasions. For more details, see: Military Tribunal Sentences Journalist for Criticizing Lebanese Security Agency | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) Lebanon’s Military Courts Have No Business Trying Civilians | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) https://rsf.org/ar/news/lebanon-military-court-sentences-reporter to the law on Military Justice represents a flagrant breach of Lebanon’s national and international obligations to protect freedom of expression.
ARTICLE 19 calls for the charges against journalist Radwan Mortada to be dropped, and for an amendment the law on Military Justice so that civilians are not brought before the military courts because of what they publish.
Article 157 of the law on Military Justice has been invoked on several occasions. For more details, see:
- 2Article 157 of the law on Military Justice has been invoked on several occasions. For more details, see: Military Tribunal Sentences Journalist for Criticizing Lebanese Security Agency | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) Lebanon’s Military Courts Have No Business Trying Civilians | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) https://rsf.org/ar/news/lebanon-military-court-sentences-reporter