In August 2001 the army intelligence services arrested over 200 anti-Syrian Christian militants accused of "hatching an anti-Syrian plot with the Israelis". A few days after these raids a communiqué put out by the Council of Ministers noted that the information minister was "charged with applying the terms of the law on the media" to stop "abuse by the media which threatens national security".
Prior to that the CNA, the broadcasting authority, had sent a document to the Council of Ministers concerning the coverage of events on 7 and 8 August by the broadcasting media. This report specified, in particular, that the channel MTV (reputedly close to General Aoun) "had not respected the pluralistic nature of news [...], had caused viewers to be worried by making them fear a change in the nature of the democratic government in Lebanon [...], had openly challenged political and security institutions in such a way as to threaten public order". Two well-known journalists were victims of harassment after publishing critical articles about the doings of the army, in particular. In general, journalists are not protected against warnings and even threats from the intelligence services.
The Lebanese audio-visual scene is nevertheless far more varied than that of other countries in the Arab world. In 2001 the sixth television channel was allowed to broadcast news bulletins. NTV thus joined Télé-Liban (state-owned), NBN and LBC, (owned by pro-Syrian rulers or people close to the government), MTV (independent), Future TV (owned by Rafik Hariri, the prime-minister) and al Manar (owned by the Hizbollah Shiite Party).
One journalist arrested
On 9 August 2001 police arrested Yehia Houjairi, cameraman for the Kuwaiti state television channel, outside the law courts where he was filming a demonstration against the raid on anti-Syrian circles. He was released only after the intervention of the chairman of the photographers union.
Two journalists attacked
Hussein el Moulla, photographer for Associated Press, and Sami Ayad, photographer for the daily An Nahar, were arrested on 9 August 2001 outside the Beirut law courts. They were covering a demonstration against the wave of arrests of militants and sympathisers of the CPL (Free Patriotic Movement) and Lebanese forces on 5 and 7 August in Beirut. Hussein el Moulla was hit by a plainclothes intelligence police officer of whom he was taking a photo. Sami Ayad was taking photos of demonstrators manhandled by intelligence police when unidentified persons demanded he hand over his films. When he refused they hit him before running away.
Pressure and obstruction
Security police confiscated the passport of Samir Kassir, editorialist with the daily An Nahar, on 28 March 2001 on his return from Amman where he had attended an Arab summit. They told him that they wanted to "check the conditions in which he obtained a passport". In an editorial on 16 March 2001 the journalist had criticised recent demonstrations of force by the army and security services in the country. After his return from Amman he was followed by unmarked police cars for several days.
In 2000 the director of the security police, General Jamil Al-Sayeed, had already phoned the journalist to threaten him after publication of an article in An Nahar. In that article the journalist had criticised the incapacity of the intelligence services to prevent incidents occurring between the army and armed Islamists in the north of the country. His passport was restored to him on 11 April.
In early June a warrant of arrest was issued against Raghida Dergham, manager of the Al Hayat office in New York. This journalist of Lebanese and US nationality failed to appear in the military court on 1 June. She was charged with participating in a seminar organised on 19 May 2000 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in which Uri Lubrani, former Israeli government coordinator for South Lebanon, had also participated.
The journalist was accused of "contact with the enemy". Lebanese law stipulates that journalists are prohibited from meeting Israelis. Charges against her were reportedly also related to her critical coverage in 2000 of the quarrel between Lebanon and the United Nations about the demarcation of the Israeli-Lebanese border.
On 18 June 2001 a CNN crew, composed of a British national, Mr. Sadler, his German cameraman Christian Streib, a driver and the Lebanese producer, Nada Husseini, were shot at while doing a report in the Hermel region in north-eastern Lebanon where cannabis is grown. The origin of the shots was not identified.
According to Mr. Sadler, the group then fell into an ambush by about ten men armed with machine guns, pistols and a rifle with telescopic sight. They forced the television crew to get out of their car, while shooting in all directions. The assailants confiscated the journalists’ two cameras but gave their personal effects, which they had also confiscated, back to them.
Antoine Bassil, correspondent for the Saudi Arabian television channel MBC, and Habib Younis, sub-editor of the daily Al Hayat, were arrested at their homes on 16 and 19 August, without a warrant of arrest. They were then questioned in the absence of a lawyer. These measures were part of the raids carried out in August by army intelligence services on anti-Syrian Christian militants. The two journalists were accused of "contact with the enemy" (Israel). Their arrest was not related to their professional activity.
Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was prevented from boarding a plane on 3 November from Paris to Beirut where he had been invited to attend the anti-globalisation summit. An airline employee explained to him: "Your security cannot be guaranteed".