BEIRUT — The Council of the Beirut Bar Association has summoned the director of the NGO Legal Agenda Nizar Saghieh, a lawyer known for his free speech advocacy, to a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
His summons has provoked an uproar on social media, with some of his colleagues fearing he might be expelled from the bar.
The BBA Council decided March 3 to prohibit lawyers from speaking to the media without obtaining prior authorization from the president of the bar, Nader Gaspard, a measure that had itself generated much criticism.
Saghieh refused to comply and, on March 31, he filed an appeal with the Beirut Court of Appeals to have the decision overturned.
"The BBA Council notified me on April 11 of a summons for a hearing scheduled for next Thursday," he told L'Orient-Le Jour, pointing out that "the document does not cite the reasons for the summons."
"I have not yet decided what position to take," he added.
The president of the BBA did not immediately reply to L'Orient-Le Jour's requests for comment.
A source close to the council believes that Saghieh "knows why he was summoned," refusing to enumerate further.
The lawyer's first hearing was originally scheduled a few days after the publication of a statement, on March 20, by the Coalition on the Independence of Justice, which Saghieh chairs.
"By the decision of the BBA Council, the freedom of lawyers becomes entirely dependent on what 'the censor' likes or dislikes," said the text, in reference to Gaspard's original decision. This hearing was postponed until next Thursday, because Saghieh was then outside the country.
'Natural right' of expression
Since council's decision, Nizar Saghieh continued to speak to the media. The BBA president had wanted to prevent Saghieh from participating in a program scheduled for April 7 on Voice of the People radio. Both the lawyer and the media ignored his wishes, and the program went ahead.
"I have a natural right to express myself, and no one can stop me from saying what I think," Saghieh told L'Orient-Le Jour. "Requiring a prior authorization means that the expression of my opinions is dependent on the will of an authority, but human rights cannot be so restricted."
He also referred to the Lebanese penal code, according to which "a person is not liable to punishment when he exercises a right without exceeding it." By contrast, Saghieh argued, the council of the bar had exceeded international conventions related to the respect of human rights.
"We do not limit freedom," Nader Gaspard told L'Orient-Le Jour the day after the BBA decision was announced. "We organize how it is exercised."
"The council should take less costly measures in terms of freedom," Saghieh retorted, "such as introducing a posteriori sanctions against lawyers who have not respected the code of ethics."
"It is the provocative style of Nizar Saghieh that seems to upset the Council," said a lawyer close to the BBA. "He insults the association to which he belongs."
"My words have been truncated and are not defamatory," Saghiyeh said in riposte. "I said verbatim that the BBA Council has failed the test of proportionality of measures taken in relation to the problems addressed."
Presided over by Ayman Oueidate, the Beirut Court of Appeal is expected to decide on May 4 whether it supports Nader's prohibiting lawyers from speaking to the media without obtaining prior authorization from the president of the bar.