Human Rights

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Lebanese Military Court Sentences Journalist to Prison, Underscoring Ties to Hezbollah

A Lebanese military court has handed down a six-month prison sentence to a journalist for comments critical of the Lebanese army, highlighting the close ties the army has with Hezbollah, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Hanin Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy known for her vocal criticism of the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah, as well as Iran’s efforts to spread its Islamic revolution across the Middle East, stands accused of “undermining the Lebanese army.”

The court ruled that Ghaddar, a U.S. resident, was guilty of “defaming the Lebanese army, harming its reputation and accusing it of distinguishing between Lebanese citizens,” because of an expose she delivered at a conference held by the Washington Institute in May 2014.

Robert Satloff, the Institute’s executive director, tweeted that the verdict was “outrageous.”

At the event, the researcher described the situation in Lebanon, which is under political and military control of Hezbollah, as “Sunnis being clamped down by Hezbollah and the Lebanese army versus Hezbollah militia being the untouchables.”

Critics, including high-ranking government officials, have long suggested that the Lebanese army has been fully integrated with Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah and follows Hezbollah’s orders.

In October 2017, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that “The Lebanese army has turned into an integral part of Hezbollah’s command structure. The Lebanese army has lost its independence and become an inseparable part of the Hezbollah apparatus.”

Gaddar reacted to the verdict with a comment on her Facebook page, saying “I am going to prison because I voiced my opinion while criminals and terrorists freely roam the country.”

Her defense attorney, Marwan Sakr, said: “Sentencing my client in absentia was prompted by a declaration she made in 2014 during a seminar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, when she said the Lebanese Army discriminated between Sunni and Shiite terrorism while tolerating the latter.”

The Beirut-based SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom condemned the court’s ruling as “a dangerous precedent in Lebanon, in which the military judiciary intervenes in a civil case.”

The sentence is “a new step toward turning the Lebanese government into an authoritarian regime, similar to other regimes in the region, where military judiciary is used for oppressing the public under vague terms and false arguments,” the statement added.

[Photo: WashingtonInstitute / YouTube]