A Lebanese judge has banned local media as well as foreign journalists working in the country from reporting comments made by the US Ambassador, starting tomorrow.
Judge Mohammed Mazeh, who is based in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, a Hezbollah stronghold, made the ruling after Ambassador Dorothy Shea criticised the Iranian-backed group during an interview with the Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath on Friday.
In the interview, Shea claimed the US has “grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah” which “is destabilising the country and jeopardizing Lebanon’s economic recovery”.
Adding, “[Hezbollah] has siphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people…[and] it has obstructed some of the economic reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs.”
Mazeh reportedly issued the ban after receiving a complaint from a citizen who was concerned the ambassador’s comments were “insulting to the Lebanese people”. The order could be reversed, however, if Shea agrees to abstain from remarks which “pit Lebanese against each other”, Mazeh told Al Jazeera.
Several Lebanese media outlets, however, continued to broadcast interviews with Shea, including comments criticising Hezbollah yesterday. From tomorrow, when the order goes into effect, media outlets that violate the ban, which runs for a year, could face being shut down for 12 months and fined $200,000.
Shea hit out at the ban in an interview with Lebanon’s MTV yesterday and was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying: “The attempt to silence Lebanese media in a country that is really known for having free media is really pathetic, it doesn’t belong in Lebanon. That kind of action belongs in a country like Iran.”
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Beirut tweeted: “We believe very much in freedom of expression and the important role a free media plays in the United States and Lebanon. We stand with the Lebanese people.”
According to a report by Al Arabiya, officials from the Lebanese government reached out to Shea to apologise and assured the ambassador the order will be revoked.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti has summoned Shea for a meeting set to be held today to discuss “her latest statements”, the National News Agency reported.