Lebanon judge issues non-binding media ban against US ambassador

By: AFP      Published: 09:30 PM, 27 Jun, 2020
Lebanon judge issues non-binding media ban against US ambassador

A Lebanese judge on Saturday banned media from publishing remarks by the US ambassador after she spoke about the powerful Hezbollah movement, in a disputed and non-binding decision.

During an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath aired on Friday, Dorothy Shea reiterated US policy "that counterterrorism sanctions apply not only to Hezbollah but to those who provide them with material support."

The ambassador said the US is still evaluating the extent to which the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab is "what it says it is -- an independent government of technocrats not beholden to Hezbollah."

The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation but the group and its allies command a majority in parliament and the cabinet.

Shea said the US "has not yet seen what we hoped for from this government in the way of concrete steps to implement the reforms the economy so desperately needs."

On Saturday, a judge in south Lebanon issued an arbitrary and non-binding order banning local and foreign media working in the country from airing or publishing locally comments by the US ambassador for a year.

"The US ambassador discussed in her interview a Lebanese party represented in parliament and cabinet and that enjoys a wide popular base," the order said, referring to Hezbollah.

"The US ambassador has no right to talk about this party," the order added, accusing her of promoting internal sedition and strife.

The judge acknowledged that international law gives diplomats immunity but said media could be punished for violating the order. 

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad dismissed the order, saying "no one has the right to ban the media from covering the news."

Any issue pertaining to the media should pass through the information ministry and official judicial channels, she added.

Local broadcaster LBC said it would not abide by the ruling, calling it a "non-binding and unenforceable" decision that violates freedom of press.

It said it would challenge the ruling in court.

The US embassy in Lebanon has not yet commented.

A senior judicial source accused the judge of over-stepping his prerogatives, telling AFP that the order is unenforceable under Lebanese law.