BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Military Court sentenced Al-Akhbar newspaper reporter Radwan Mortada in absentia to a prison sentence on charges of defaming the Lebanese army, the National News Agency reported.
Here’s what we know:
• The Military Court, which has a mandate of trying Lebanese and security forces personnel who commit crimes while on duty, on Friday sentenced Mortada to 13 months in prison. The reporter was not present at the trial, the NNA reported.
• The NNA said that the tribunal found Mortada guilty of defaming the army and its chief, Gen. Joseph Aoun, for holding them culpable for the 2020 Beirut port explosion.
• In a Jan. 9 interview with Al-Jadeed TV, Mortada slammed Lebanese authorities, including the army, for their failure to stop the ammonium nitrate stored at the Beirut port from exploding on Aug. 4, 2020, according to the SKeyes Center that tracks violations of press freedoms in Lebanon.
• In the Al-Jadeed interview, Mortada said that the army had acted in a “donkey-like” manner regarding the ammonium nitrate. In a Jan. 18 interview with the TV network, following questioning by Lebanon’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, Mortada clarified that he was referring not to the military institution as a whole as “donkey-like,” but individuals involved with the ammonium nitrate consignment sitting at the port.
• Human Rights Watch has condemned the Military Court on several occasions for trying civilians, saying in a 2017 report that “such trials do not respect due process rights and violate international law.”
• The Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate issued a statement Friday night voicing astonishment at the Military Court’s ruling, saying it violated the jurisdiction of the Publications Court that has a mandate for legal matters involving press publications. The syndicate added that it would “not remain silent about any targeting or oppression of media professionals.”
• Meanwhile, the Alternative Press Syndicate, a group of journalists that say they are not represented by the establishment media syndicates, said that trying civilians before the Military Court is a sign of a “dangerous slide toward a security state.”