Freedom of expression in Lebanon is under attack. Lebanese authorities and powerful individuals, including political, judicial, religious and security figures, are weaponizing the criminal insult, slander and libel laws to harass, intimidate and silence people who criticize them or try to expose their alleged misconduct or corruption.
What is the problem?
In July 2023, a Lebanese criminal court sentenced a journalist to one year imprisonment solely because of a tweet she published criticizing members of a prominent political party.
This prison sentence is an unprecedented escalation of the assault on freedom of expression in Lebanon and demonstrates the authorities’ increasing intolerance of criticism.
One of the most potent tools that authorities and powerful individuals have weaponized to silence criticism have been Lebanon’s criminal insult and defamation laws, which can carry sentences of up to three years imprisonment. People can go to prison even if what they said was true.
Since 2015, thousands of individuals have been investigated and prosecuted based on these laws, which fail to meet international human rights standards and unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression.
The authorities’ arbitrary resort to these laws risks having a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, as the interrogations and fear of imprisonment can deter journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and others from speaking out about important social and economic rights issues at a time when public debate is especially essential.
Criminal penalties are always disproportionate punishments for reputational harm and should be abolished.
What can you do to help?
Call on the Lebanese parliament to repeal all criminal insult provisions and to replace criminal defamation articles with a new civil defamation legal regime, bringing the laws in line with Lebanon’s obligations under international human rights law.