The latest victims include Yahya Habchiti, a reporter for the Lebanese TV channel LBCI in the northern city of Tripoli, who was attacked by a group of young men on 7 January while covering a police raid on a crowded café to enforce a strict coronavirus lockdown that took effect that day. Several of the youths grabbed his camera and gave him a severe beating.
Journalists staged a sit-in outside the lawcourts in Tripoli the next day in protest against the violence. “If the justice system can prosecute journalists for defamation, it can also protect them when they are the victims of violence while just trying to report the facts as they really are,” journalist Ghassan Rifi told the demonstrators.
Sawt Beirut International reporter Rabih Shantaf and photographer Mahmoud Al-Sayed had to be hospitalized after being insulted and beaten by around 30 Hezbollah supporters in Zokak El-Blat, a southwestern suburb of Beirut, on 24 November.
Shantaf said they went to cover a big fire in an apartment building when a group of Hezbollah supporters who happened to be there began to attack them, claiming that Sawt Beirut International (which is known for being critical of religious parties) had defamed Hezbollah leaders. Soldiers eventually intervened and took them to a hospital.
Around 15 journalists were injured by police and soldiers while covering anti-government demonstrations in August that were triggered by the massive explosion in Beirut’s port on 4 August. Alexandre Khachachou, a reporter for the daily newspaper Al-Nahar, was badly beaten by supporters of Amal, a party allied with the government that is hostile to the media because it widely accused of being corrupt.
The start of the hostility towards the media dates back to the beginning of a wave of protests in October 2019, when journalists suddenly found themselves being surrounded, or interrupted while reporting live from the street or even having their microphones snatched. Since then, the possibility of being obstructed in this way has made work very difficult for reporters in the field.
“The increasing frequency of attacks against journalists in Lebanon, fuelled by the growing political tension, is extremely disturbing,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The authorities cannot allow the media to continue to become an easy target for demonstrators or party activists, who prevent them from doing their job. Protective measures must be studied and implemented without delay.”
Lebanon is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.