Lebanese editor allegedly beaten for Facebook post about Parliament speaker

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The editor of a local Lebanese publication says he was attacked by supporters of the Amal party after publishing a post on his personal Facebook page mocking the political party’s leader, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the outlet's editorial board said.

Bachir Abou Zeid, editor of the 17 Tishreen (17 October) newspaper that was formed during the mass protests in the country, wrote in a post Thursday, “Turn off (the lights) in front of Nabih Berri’s house and light the houses of the people.”

The post was a reference to Lebanon’s chronic electricity shortages and daily power cuts where the state-run utility fails to provide 24-hour power, with outages of at least three hours a day in Beirut and more in outlying areas.

Read more: Daily power cuts, expensive generators: Electricity plays into Lebanon protests

The outages have increased in recent days, leading to protests around the country, including one in which demonstrators stormed an Energy Ministry office in Beirut.

Over the past few weeks, a few Twitter users have taken to pointing out streetlights left on during the day and calling on the Energy Minister to turn the lights off.

The day after making the post, Abou Zeid, who lives in the southern town of Kfar Roummane where Berri has a strong base of support, wrote that he had faced a stream of threats and accusations related to the first post. And early Saturday, the editorial board of the 17

Tishreen newspaper published a statement on its own Facebook alleging that Abou Zeid had been physically attacked by Amal supporters.

“The editorial board of the October 17 newspaper denounces the violent attack on its editor, Bashir Abou Zeid, in his hometown of Kfar Roummane, in front of the home of Mukhtar Ali Shukron, after he was pursued in front of his house, where he was chased by members of the Amal Movement in a motorcade, and they tried to kidnap him because of an opinion he had published on his page last night,” the statement said. “Bashir was taken to the Najda Hospital, where his injuries were examined by the pathologist.”

Officials from Amal and the Lebanese Communist Party met and issued a statement saying that “What happened in Kafrerman, is an individual incident, not of a political nature” and that it was being followed up on by “the competent authorities. In the statement, they also asserted that they have respect for “freedom of expression and expression of opinion for all, under the roof of the law,” Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, a Lebanon-based press freedom group that tracks attacks and other violations against media workers, said the incident exemplified many of the issues faced by journalists in Lebanon, particularly those not affiliated with major media outlets, which are often connected to specific political parties.

Read more: Legal threat against the Economist shows hostility to press freedom in Lebanon

“First, the perpetrators of all forms of aggressions enjoy complete immunity, and there is a situation of complete impunity also for all forms of crimes against journalists,” Mhanna said.

That is particularly the case, he said when the perpetrators “enjoy political support, political cover from one of the major political parties in Lebanon…because these big parties always provide protection and cover to the perpetrators if they belong to their ranks.”

On the other hand, he noted that journalists have continued to face detention or interrogation for writing on political topics.

The Lebanese authorities he said are “still allowing police and the judiciary to summon journalist who do not belong to big parties, (while) whenever someone is physically attacked, whenever someone’s life is put in danger they don’t even dare to make one statement of solidarity.”

Activists called for supporters of Abou Zeid to turn on their balcony lights at 8 p.m. Sunday in solidarity.

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