Lebanese Journalist Dima Sadek Sentenced to One Year in Prison

Lebanese Journalist Dima Sadek Sentenced to One Year in Prison

This latest round by the Lebanese judiciary hurts the once proud free-thinking atmosphere that Lebanon was respected for—no matter how any political actor would like to spin it.

Following a court order, Lebanese journalist Dima Sadek has been sentenced to one year as a result of a lawsuit filed by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil. Sadek, a well-known critic of the FPM and its ally Hezbollah, has faced endless attacks for her criticism of both parties including death threats.

The news is still early, and developments are still unfolding. This lawsuit was originally filed three years ago in 2020 at the height of Lebanon’s protest movement. At the time, Bassil was at the center of ridicule by angry demonstrators who were accusing him of corruption alongside other establishment figures.

Judge Rosine Hajili, a legal official at the Court of Appeal in Beirut, issued the decree to sentence Sadek to one year in prison and said she must pay a fine of 110 million Lebanese pounds (about $6,700). This led to a backlash in solidarity with Sadek and with contempt for FPM. There is a genuine concern that this move by the court only increases Lebanon’s climate of fear and makes people think twice before speaking out against establishment politicians. Sadek tweeted a video explaining the recent news and how it originated from her criticizing FPM members attacking two men from the city of Tripoli.

“In Feb. 2020, two young men from Tripoli were assaulted by the FPM,” Sadek said in her Twitter video. “One was attacked by [former member of parliament and FPM member] Ziad Aswad’s bodyguards, and the other, named Zakaria al-Masri ... was beaten up and forced to repeat ‘Aoun is your God and the God of Tripoli,’“ as he claimed in his written testimony, she said.

“Bassil is suing me in the case of Zakaria al-Masri,” she continued. “In both cases, I said that these were racist and Nazi acts.”

The National Interest reached out to Sadek for further comment. As of now, there has been no reply. Bassil’s office did return requests for an explanation on this matter. His lawyer, Majed Boueiz, elaborated on why they chose to pursue the lawsuit against the prominent journalist and said that it wasn’t her criticism that invoked legal action. Rather, it was her “defamation, libel, and slander that the journalist Dima Sadek made by trespassing and overstepping on the freedom of others.”

Boueiz said it was not the lawsuit that threatens freedom of expression or the values of democracy, but the actions of Sadek herself. “Pursuing this lawsuit isn’t against what Lebanon is known for, and does not contradict with our beliefs, principles, and laws. On the contrary, the act that the journalist Dima Sadek did is what contradicts with our principles, beliefs, and what Lebanon is known for.”

Yet, most see this as another political move by the FPM to shut down all kinds of descent by any means necessary.

Already, supporters of Sadek are showing their solidarity online by denouncing this move by the local judiciary. George Wardini, managing director of the PolyBlog social media platform, spoke about the sentence and the precedent it is setting for freedom of speech in Lebanon. “Three years ago, when this lawsuit was filed, the opposition and reform-minded people were actually on the offensive. We had taken the initiative and control over the narrative. Politicians feared us. They stayed at home and wouldn’t go to restaurants because they were being confronted by the public. Three years later, the fact that Gebran Bassil, who was the main recipient of our public rage and anger, was able to put a one-year prison sentence on Dima Sadek, who is hailed as one of our bravest figures, is a dangerous precedent.”

Indeed, if someone like Sadek, a recognized powerful media personality, can’t escape the legal ramifications of condemning politicians for poor behavior and actions, what chances do others have? Member of Parliament Najat Saliba spoke with TNI, highlighting the value freedom of conscience provides and condemning the actions taken against Sadek.

“Definitely, I am against what happened. I think the freedom of expression and press should be one of the most principles and guidance that we cherish and protect. Also, considering the party that is putting charges, and considering what Dima Sadek represents, I think they have gone too far.”

The probability of Sadek seeing a day in prison is low. She can legally appeal the court’s sentencing and avoid this debacle altogether. Nevertheless, this latest round by the Lebanese judiciary hurts the once proud free-thinking atmosphere that Lebanon was respected for—no matter how any political actor would like to spin it.

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

Image: Shutterstock.