BEIRUT — Within 48 hours, two Lebanese media outlets were summoned by the security services for questioning.
One of the founders of the online media outlet Megaphone News was summoned by State Security on Thursday, and the editor-in-chief of the investigative journalism outlet The Public Source was summoned Friday by the Anti-Cybercrime Bureau.
Megaphone claimed that Ghassan Oueidat, the prosecutor general at the Court of Cassation, is behind the summoning of Jean Kassir, one of its two founders.
According to the outlet, the summons is in response to a March 1 Instagram post entitled, "Lebanon ruled by fugitives from justice," in which Oueidat's name appears.
On Friday, The Public Source reported that the Anti-Cybercrime Bureau had summoned Lara Bitar, its editor-in-chief, "after a complaint from the Lebanese Forces."
Samir Geagea's party reportedly reproached Bitar for the publication of an August article on the alleged environmental crimes of the Lebanese Forces (LF) during and after the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).
Arrested while driving his car
"These are the methods used by the establishment to silence people," a member of the Megaphone team, who requested anonymity, told L'Orient-Le Jour.
The site reported that Jean Kassir was stopped Thursday by two State Security officers who informed him of his summons.
"He was driving his car, and two agents dressed in civilian clothes knocked on his vehicle, ordered him to stop and informed him of his summons," the Megaphone team member continued.
The site claimed Oueidat gave the order to investigate its founders, "most likely because his name appears in the publication as one of the people accused by Judge Tarek Bitar in the port case."
The member of Megaphone said that there is currently "no complaint or lawsuit" filed against the site by Oueidat.
The magistrate did not immediately respond to requests for comment from L'Orient-Le Jour.
'Oueidat violates the law once again'
On Friday, Megaphone reported that the media outlet's lawyer, Diala Chehade, appeared for the summons in place of Kassir.
"Security services are not authorized to investigate journalists," Megaphone added. "Oueidat is thus violating the law once again, because the Public Prosecutor's Office cannot act in defamation cases without a personal complaint from the victim, unless it is defamation against the President of the Republic."
Antoine Bazerly, a lawyer for L'Orient-Le Jour, said that a journalist can only be questioned before the Printed Materials Tribunal or an investigating judge, "and in no case by the judicial police."
This is not the first time Megaphone has been threatened with legal proceedings.
Last January, the Lebanese Ministry of Justice announced that it would file a complaint against the outlet for a story published on Instagram. But a Megaphone spokesperson said that neither the outlet nor its lawyers received any notification of legal action.
'The LF had already threatened us'
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, Bitar said she was summoned by phone on Friday morning.
"I was surprised because the article in question dates back to August and this summons is coming now," said the editor-in-chief. "But the LF had already threatened us when the article came out, [saying] that they would launch proceedings against us."
"Of course there is a complaint," said LF spokesperson Charles Jabbour when contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour. "Freedom of speech is one thing, spreading false information is another ... They need to appear [before authorities] to answer for their allegations."
The Public Source tweeted Friday that "the government is using a security agency that has no jurisdiction over the press, to harass journalists doing their jobs."
The tweet added that the outlet's representatives will nevertheless report questioning, scheduled for April 6 at 10 a.m.
In a statement issued Friday evening, the Alternative Journalism Union called for an April 3 demonstration in front of the Beirut Palace of Justice in support of press freedom.
"We remind judges that their role is to deliver justice and protect people's rights, not to infringe on freedoms," the statement said.