Lebanon protests: Hezbollah supporters harass journalists over reporting

Women received obscene material after their numbers were shared on WhatsApp

epa08009172 Protesters gather in front of a road blocked by Security forces, next to the Prime Ministry, in Beirut, Lebanon, 19 November 2019. Lebanese protesters continued on 19 November their movement demanding political changes. Thousands of them tried to reach the parliament surroundings in a bid to prevent its members from meeting amid heavy security measures. The planned  Parliamentary session was canceled later the same day.  EPA/ANDRE PAIN
Powered by automated translation

Journalists are being harassed by Hezbollah supporters for their positive coverage of Lebanon's protests, according to television station Al Jadeed.

On Tuesday, dozens of the Iran-backed party's followers arrived outside the channel's building on motorbikes to protest against Al Jadeed calling out Hezbollah and allied party Amal for failing to reprimand supporters who harass journalists.

 In an editorial on Tuesday, anchor Dalia Ahmad said that “groups supporting Hezbollah are running campaigns against the media”, exposing staff to “slander, insults, pornographic images and the distribution of the phone numbers of male and female colleagues”.

Al Jadeed's vice-president, Karma Khayat, told The National that she believed the TV channel became a target because of its positive coverage of anti-government protests.

“They are saying that people are continuing to protest because of our live coverage. But we are proud to support the revolution. People are fighting for issues Al Jadeed stands for,” she said.

More than a month of protests started on October 17 when a tax on using WhatsApp was proposed.

Participants denounce deep-seated economic inequalities, corruption and mismanagement of the country by its ruling elite.

Local media coverage of protests has been deeply divided, with stations such as Al Jadeed, owned by Mrs Khayat's father, businessman Tahseen Khayat, siding with demonstrators, while media affiliated to President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah criticise the unrest.

Mrs Khayat said that Al Jadeed staff have been harassed online since the beginning of the protests, but that the situation became unacceptable last week when reporters' phone numbers, particularly women's, were shared on WhatsApp groups with instructions to harass them.

“They were getting thousands of calls at the same time. Some of them had to change their phone numbers,” she said.

"They were receiving [porno­graphic material] and being harassed on social media."

The television channel decided to publicly shame Hezbollah and Amal on Tuesday evening for not condemning this behaviour after broadcasting testimonies of harassed journalists the day before.

“People were being attacked, harassed and bullied in the name of Amal and Hezbollah.

“If they know this is unethical, they should make a clear official statement so that people stop. When you allow for such actions, the next step is spreading blood,” Mrs Khayat said.

Hezbollah’s press office declined to comment.

On Monday, Jawad Nasrallah, son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, tweeted that he condemned anti-media campaigns such as the one against Al Jadeed.

“There is no justification for threatening someone via that person’s family, home, or distributing female journalists’ phone numbers to slander their dignity,” he wrote.

After his tweet, attacks eased briefly before picking up again, Mrs Khayat said.

Al Jadeed's building has been attacked and damaged by protesters in the past after a report was broadcast alleging that Amal's leader, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, was corrupt.

In its editorial, Al Jadeed also criticised Mr Aoun's management of the protests, which succeeded in preventing Parliament from convening on Tuesday.