BEIRUT — During its meeting on Thursday, the Beirut Bar Association (BBA) council took no decision on the removal of lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh, who was summoned on March 3 over a ban on unauthorized media appearances that critics say violates freedom of expression.
Saghieh is the director of Legal Agenda, an advocacy and research nonprofit.
The BBA summoned Saghieh over what it said were unauthorized media appearances, following a decision last month prohibiting all members from making such appearances without prior approval from the association's president Nader Gaspard.
The decision sparked an outcry, with some critics accusing the Bar of repressing lawyers' freedom of expression.
A source at the Bar Council said he does not rule out the possibility of resuming consultations in view of a decision after Eid el-Fitr, which starts on Friday and ends Sunday.
Speaking to the press following the meeting, Nader Gaspard denounced "certain provocations" against the Bar Association and attempts to "mislead the [public] opinion," without naming Saghieh, who affirmed that he has "delivered his message."
Saghieh also assured that he "will not accept" his potential ban from the BBA.
'Some are overstepping the law'
After a long meeting, the BBA's Council announced, "The council recalls its commitment to all freedoms, and first and foremost the freedom of conscience and expression."
The statement also denounced that "some colleagues are overstepping the law, while it is unacceptable to deal with judicial cases that are still under investigation."
"Some hide behind this freedom to intimidate, humiliate, conduct unacceptable campaigns and insult a previous president of the bar, or the current one," it continued. The statement cited "provocations against the Bar Association and attempts to turn public opinion against it through defamation, denigration, misappropriation of words and slander, and dragging opinion leaders and events to pressure the board."
"We cannot remain silent in the face of this," it added.
Several dozen activists, lawyers and MPs gathered Thursday morning in front of the Beirut Justice Palace to support Saghieh. The rally, which Saghieh appeared at, was organized by the collectives Coalition for the Independence of Justice in Lebanon and the Alliance for Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
'I said that this is an infringement on my freedom'
While Saghieh's hearing ended at 4:30 p.m., the Bar Council continued its meeting to reach a decision on the case.
"There was an attempt to end the dispute. I expressed my opinion and said that this is an infringement on my freedom as a lawyer and I will not accept this. I think the College understood the positions I expressed. I have sent my message," the lawyer told the press as he left the Justice Palace.
Before the hearing, Maya Zaghrini, a member of the Bar Council, told L'Orient-Le Jour that "the summons of Saghieh is not related to the new rule that a lawyer cannot make media appearances without prior authorization of the President of the Bar."
"The board wants to hear him on several points that we keep secret under the secrecy of the proceedings," she added.
'Disbarred in five minutes'
"I have been a member of the Bar for 29 years, and today I can be disbarred in five minutes," Saghieh told L'Orient Today Thursday morning.
"It is a way to terrorize all members of the Bar," he added. "Society must raise its voice to defend freedoms."
A source close to the Bar told L'Orient-Le Jour that there had been no advance decision to disbar Saghieh.
"This is a blow against human rights," Saghieh told protesters Thursday morning. "From the beginning, we understood that this decision reflects the fear of the regime towards justice... It is a question of stripping a lawyer of one of his most effective weapons in society."
"It is up to the Bar Association to preserve freedoms," said Forces of Change MP Mark Daou, who was also present Thursday morning.
"The Bar Council should reconsider its decision," lawyer and activist Wassef Harakeh said.
Saghieh's hearing was scheduled 11:30 a.m. but didn't begin until about 40 minutes later.
Several lawyers requested to participate in the session but were prevented from entering.
The secretary general of the Bar Council, Saad Khatib, was seen explaining to them that it was a Council meeting and not a trial before a court. The meeting reportedly includes several agenda items in addition to Saghieh's hearing. Therefore, no lawyer can be present.
Saghieh has presented an appeal for the Bar to cancel its decision, which should be decided May 4.
"We do not limit freedom, we organize its exercise," Nader Gaspard told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Saghieh has continued his media appearances despite the order's ban.
Gaspard attempted to ban Saghieh from appearing on an April 7 radio program, The People's Voice. But both the lawyer and the media ignored his wishes, and the program aired.
Numerous parties, political figures and civil society organizations have expressed their rejection of the ban since it was leaked last week.