Lebanese journalist convicted of "insulting army"

Hanin Ghaddar, now in America, was sentenced in absentia

Lebanese soldiers take part in a military parade for Independence Day celebrations marking 74 years since the end of France's mandate in Lebanon, on November 22, 2017 in Beirut.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said today he had agreed to suspend his decision to resign, at the request of President Michel Aoun, pending talks on the political situation. / AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO
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A Lebanese journalist and academic has been sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for comments she made about the country's army.

Hanin Ghaddar's remarks came at a panel discussion in Washington in May 2014 entitled “Syria and Its Repercussions”.

She was convicted by a military court for “attacking the Lebanese army”. Local media said the comments in question concerned the army “involving itself in sectarian conflicts”.

During the discussion, Ms Ghaddar said of the Lebanese Army: “This is creating injustice, and this injustice is not going to end well, the Sunnis are being clamped down on by Hizbollah and the Lebanese army."

Ms Ghaddar, 43, currently lives in the United States, and works as a visiting fellow at think tank The Washington Institute.

Hizbollah is not an official part of the country’s armed forces, though the Iranian backed group has thousands of militiamen at its disposal and is widely seen as better resourced and more influential than Lebanese soldiers.

During the panel, she also referred to Hizbollah's fighters in Syria as "thugs", comments that proved controversial at the time. Though she was not sentenced for comments relating to Hizbollah, those specific remarks provoked outrage in some Lebanese circles, and she was slammed by several local news outlets, including Hizbollah aligned daily newspaper Al Akhbar.

Colleagues and commentators took to Twitter to express solidarity with Ms Ghaddar, and to voice concern over the decline of freedom of expression in Lebanon. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute tweeted: "The entire @WashInstitute family - and, I believe, all fair-minded people - stand w/@haningdr in denouncing this outrageous verdict and what passes for 'justice' in #Lebanon today."

Albin Szakola, a former colleague of Ms Ghaddar’s, tweeted: "Will any of Lebanon's politicians criticize unjust sentence against @haningdr? Or are the pathetic remnants of March 14 too busy scheming for a piece of the pie in a region where Hezbollah saved Assad's grip on power."

The sentence comes amid a wider decline in freedom of expression in Lebanon. Earlier this week Steven Spielberg's latest film The Post was briefly banned by Lebanese censors, on account of the director's film on the Holocaust, Schindler's List. The decision was later overturned following international controversy.

When contacted by The National Ms Ghaddar declined to comment on the grounds that an appeal was in process.