Watchdog: Lebanon military court sentences reporter to jail

Rami Aysha is wanted on a charge of purchasing firearms

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A Lebanese court has sentenced reporter Rami Aysha to six months in jail, a press freedom watchdog said Friday, calling for the conviction to be scrapped and all charges dropped.

Aysha was abducted on August 30 in southern Beirut, a bastion of Shiite militant group Hezbollah, while investigating a story on arms trafficking, and then turned over to Lebanese authorities, who jailed him.

“During this process, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured,” the Reporters Without Borders watchdog said.

He was released on bail on September 27, and then sentenced in absentia last week by a military court to six months in jail “on a charge of purchasing firearms,” RSF said.

Aysha is currently outside of Lebanon but plans to return on December 8, when authorities are expected to arrest him in Beirut airport.

RSF, citing Aysha, said he would “be held indefinitely by the Public Security Department pending a new trial before the military court.”

A new trial “could result in the confirmation of the (latest) judgement and sentence to prison,” RSF added.

Speaking to AFP via the Internet, Aysha said he would challenge the judgment.

“I will challenge this (ruling),” he said, adding that he would not cancel his return home, despite the sentence.

“This is the place where I live and I don’t care about their injustice. I will never stop reporting,” he added.

RSF called for all charges against Aysha to be dropped.

“We call for the definitive withdrawal of all the proceedings against Aysha and the quashing of his conviction,” RSF said.

“As a journalist, Aysha was doing a story on arms trafficking when arrested. It is crucial that the Lebanese judicial authorities distinguish between journalistic investigation and illicit trafficking.”

Swiss NGO Alkarama, which co-signed the RSF statement, also condemned Aysha’s conviction in military court.

“Trials of civilians before military courts such as Aysha’s trial cannot be regarded as fair,” it said.

Aysha works for several international news organizations including Time Magazine and Spiegel Online.

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