Montreal, Canada - April 26, 2004

Freedom of expression under attack: Journalist faces 1 year in prison

The Beirut editor of the London-based Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, Ibrahim Awad, was sentenced by the Lebanese Puiblications court to 1 year in jail. The sentence relates to an article in the paper that reported that President Lahoud escaped an assassination attempt in Monte Carlo last December.

The article appeared by the London's head office bureau while Ibrahim Awad was on vacation with his family in Egypt. The Chairman of Lebanon's Press Association has expressed 'bewilderment' over a Publications Court verdict that sentenced him to 1 year along with a fine of $33,000. Additionally, there was no fair trial considering that the defendant did not get the chance to defend himself since he was not notified of the accusation pending against him (according to his lawyer). 

"Sabotaging the political, economic and financial security of Lebanon" is a vague accusation which can be interpreted in a abusive manner in Lebanon considering that the judiciary is not immune to political interferences. This arbitrary accusation violates freedom of expression and threatens independant reporting in Lebanon.

Generally a journalistic mistake is followed by an "Erratum" by the accused publication, and possibly a fine. The paper in question had run a front-page denial of the report plus an apology to President Lahoud. 

RCPL urges the Canadian government to express its concerns over this case, and that it fears the on-going muzzlement of the press is a threat to Lebanon's democratic institutions.

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