BEIRUT — Lebanese lawyers must still seek approval from Beirut Bar Association (BBA) president Nader Gaspard before speaking with the media, a court upheld Friday.
L'Orient-Le Jour was able to consult a copy of this decision, which rejects several appeals against a controversial decision issued on March 3 by the BBA council. The March 3 measure required lawyers to first seek approval before media appearances, stoking criticism of of attempts to stifle freedom of speech.
According to the arguments of the BBA Council mentioned in the Court of Appeal's decision, the amendment concerning the right of lawyers to express themselves in the media, was motivated by the recurrence of violent discussions (and sometimes disputes) between lawyers on media shows. It would also prevent some lawyers from using social networks and the media for publicity purposes rather than legal ones.
Lawyer Nizar Saghieh, known for speaking publicly in defense of human rights and the independence of the judiciary, refused to comply and presented an appeal against the measure on March 31.
Saghieh, who is also the director of advocacy NGO Legal Agenda, was subsequently summoned and heard by the BBA council, which threatened to disbar him. He has continued to speak with the media.
Saghiyeh was not immediately available to comment on the Court's decision.
A second appeal was also presented on March 29 by a group of lawyers including Wassef Harakeh, Jad Tohmeh, Diala Shehadeh and Ali Abbas.
Gaspard is expected to hold a press conference at 4 p.m. to comment on the rejection of the appeals, according to the state-run National News Agency.
The justice system has flouted lawyers
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, Abbas said he "respects the decision of the Court of Appeal." He said he did not rule out the possibility of bringing an appeal against the actions of the judges who issued the ruling, "if it turns out that they have violated the constitutional principles of freedom of expression."
"We believe that the current president of the Bar will not use the power that the Court of Appeal has given him to muzzle our voices in national affairs," said Abbas.
"But we will not remain silent in the face of possible measures by future presidents of the Bar who may try to prevent us from defending people in the cases of corruption, the return of public funds, and the case of the double explosion at the port of Beirut," he added.
In an interview with L'Orient-Le Jour, Jad Tohmeh said "the country is heading towards the muzzling of voices."
"The judiciary has flouted the lawyers by rejecting the appeals," said Tohmeh.
"The need to obtain a prior permit from the President of the Bar may also be applied to journalists who wish to work on legal issues," he continued.