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The case of Makram Rabah and Lebanon’s endangered freedom of expression

The arrest of a prominent academic for comments critical of Hezbollah's heavily armed militia has revived debate on attacks against freedom of expression.
Activists gather to protest against a wave of interrogations by Lebanese security forces of people making political comments on social media, Beirut, July 24, 2018. The Arabic reads "Against oppression."

BEIRUT — Lebanon's reputation as a beacon of freedom of expression in the Arab world has suffered greatly in recent years. The case of Makram Rabah, an assistant professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) who was briefly detained by the General Security Directorate last week, has accelerated fears of an apparently ongoing decline in this fundamental freedom in the country.

Violations of the rights of journalists, activists, and public figures have been increasing for years, and the situation appears to only be getting worse.

In the online petition "Safeguard Freedom of Expression in Lebanon," Amnesty International stated that thousands of people in the country have been investigated or prosecuted since 2015 on such charges as defamation, insult and slander, which are all criminalized by Lebanese law, including the Penal Code and the Publications Law. 

In March of last year, Lebanese State Security summoned Jean Kassir, director of the online, independent Megaphone News, over an Instagram post by the website accusing several officials of evading justice for the 2020 port blast in Beirut that killed more than 200 people, left hundreds of thousand homeless and caused billions of dollars in property damage. 

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