BEIRUT — The Lebanese judiciary sentenced journalist Dima Sadek to one-year of imprisonment on Monday over a lawsuit filed three years ago by head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, according to court documents seen by L'Orient Today.
Bassil had accused Sadek of "defamation, slander as well as inciting sectarian strife" in the lawsuit, the court documents said.
Sadek also communicated the details of the verdict in a Twitter video she posted on Tuesday, in which she explained that, in addition to the incarceration sentence, she must settle a compensation of LL110 million to the FPM.
In 2020, the year when the lawsuit was filed, Sadek and blogger Gino Raidy announced that they were summoned by the criminal investigations department to be questioned on the basis of a complaint filed on Feb. 14 by the FPM.
"In Feb. 2020, two young men from Tripoli were assaulted by the FPM," Sadek said in her Twitter video. "One was attacked by [former MP and FPM member] Ziad Aswad's bodyguards, and the other, named Zakaria al-Masri... was beaten up and forced to repeat 'Aoun is your God and the God of Tripoli,'" as he claimed in his written testimony, said Sadek.
"Bassil is suing me in the case of Zakaria al-Masri," she continued. "In both cases, I said that these were racist and Nazi acts."
In another tweet, Sadek said Bassil sued her three years ago, accusing her of "defamation and slander as well as inciting sectarian strife."
"So, when they beat up the man, this is not inciting sectarian strife," Sadek said sarcastically. "And they weren't tried, arrested and no one said a word to them."
"But, a verdict was issued to put me, I, who condemned this act, in jail."
Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKeyes), which advocates for media freedom, answered L'Orient Today's questions over Sadek's "unprecedented" incarceration case. Mhanna said he is following Sadek's case closely.
1. Does the incarceration verdict filed against journalist Dima Sadek in fact set a precedent?
There has been prison sentences in the past, in absentia, but not enforced. [Sadek's case] is a dangerous precedent at many levels. We strongly reject such decisions that go against every freedom of expression principle and clearly show the degree of judiciary politicization. This is revenge judiciary.
Sadek claimed on Tuesday that the verdict against her — to be imprisoned in the defamation and slander lawsuit without a suspended prison sentence — sets "a very very dangerous precedent on the freedom of journalism, media and expression in Lebanon."
She explained that the judiciary can incarcerate her at any time if she does not appeal the verdict.
2. Is the verdict against Sadek unfair and harsh, despite the fact that she had accused the FPM of committing "racist and Nazi acts?"
Sadek and any commentator, journalist and citizen should be able to say anything about any party. There is not a single word that can justify a prison sentence unless it’s an explicit call for murder or violence. The judge could’ve chosen a financial fine similar to previous cases. Prison is out of line, purely revenge politics, and shows the extent of judiciary politicization.
3. What is the implication of such a verdict on journalism and freedom of speech in Lebanon?
It will lead to further polarization. Those against the FPM and other mainstream political parties will criticize them even harder. And party supporters and leaderships will feel emboldened to further harass their opponents and use the judiciary to silence critics.
4. Is there a political motivation in Sadek's case?
It smells like political motivation, looks like it, and feels like it.