Lebanese authorities released two western journalists on Monday, six hours after Hezbollah detained them and handed them over to the security forces.
British reporter Matt Kynaston was detained and his phone confiscated after he went to the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburb of Beirut to cover the country’s ongoing fuel crisis, his editor-in-chief at NOW Lebanon said on Twitter.
“Journalist Matt Kynaston has been detained on the Airport Road by men who introduced as Hezbollah agents,” Ana Maria Luca said on Twitter.
“Before his phone was probably taken away he sent a voice note with a recording of a man saying, 'I have the right to take his phone. I have the right to take his phone without his consent.'"
Kynaston is employed at NOW Lebanon and has previously worked for The National as a freelancer. He was detained with German reporter Stella Manner, Luca said.
The two journalists were handed over to Lebanese authorities and held at the General Security building in Beirut before being released in the evening.
Lebanon has long been considered a haven for freedom of speech in the Middle East. But Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal have repeatedly cracked down on journalists, activists and demonstrators in Beirut and southern Lebanon after the mass anti-government protest movement of October 2019.
Areas under Hezbollah control are out of reach for the Lebanese state. Journalists and media workers are required to ask for permission from Hezbollah before they can report from these areas.
"The individual had not asked permission before filming in Dahiye," a Hezbollah representative told The National. "That may be why he was questioned."
Iran-backed Hezbollah is the only group that was allowed to keep its weapons arsenal after the end of the civil war in 1990.
The militia, which is represented in Parliament and in government, wields great influence over the country.
Media Watchdog Samir Kassir Eyes lambasted both Hezbollah and Lebanon's security apparatus for the arrests.
"In Lebanon a non-state actor, with no legal authority, can detain journalists by force for hours and hand them over to security forces. In turn, security forces will question the journalists and not those who detained them," the NGO said on Twitter.
The incident created a diplomatic backlash and prompted Martin Longden, the UK Chargé d’Affaires in Lebanon, to intervene.
He described Kynaston’s arrest as “a serious and troubling incident".
“I have been in touch personally with the Lebanese authorities,” he tweeted through the embassy’s account. “I understand Mr Kynaston is now in their care, and I am grateful for their assistance.”
“This remains a serious and troubling incident: journalists should not be impeded from carrying out their legitimate functions – a free press is critical to democracy in Lebanon.”
Lebanese authorities could not be reached for comment at the time of publication and did not issue any statements about the incident.