The sweeping powers granted last week by the Lebanese Parliament to the armed forces to bring protests under control threaten press freedom in the country, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, said.
Parliament, which met last Friday, August 13 for the first time after the explosion on August 4, quickly approved a resolution granting wide-ranging powers to the army. This decision followed the imposition of a two-week state of emergency imposed by the cabinet just 24h after the blast that left over 200 people dead, more than 6,000 injured and over 3.5 million homeless.
The army will have the power to enter homes and arrest anyone “threatening” national security. It also allows the army to limit free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. Those arrested by the army will be prosecuted in military courts.
Lebanese journalists told IPI that they fear the government would use the army to stifle press freedom, as the local press has been vehemently criticizing the political system and the politicians. Although the speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, has tried to assuage these fears, journalists say that they have no faith in such assurances.
“At a time when the country is going through a political and economic turmoil compounded by the disaster, the Lebanese public needs authentic, unbiased information”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said, urging the Parliament to roll back the decision. “The powers granted to the army threaten press freedom in Lebanon and with it the public’s access to independent news.”
Protests in Lebanon began in October 2019 when people took to streets against government corruption, a stagnating economy, growing unemployment. Soon the protests turned violent, as the government failed to respond to the demands. Many journalists covering the protests were arrested.
Following the explosion at the Beirut port on August 4, people in the country rallied to clean up the city. Soon the protests resumed leading to the resignation of the government.