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Four students arrested, face criminal charges for slander over comments made on Facebook

(MAHARAT/IFEX) - On 10 January 2008, the prosecutor general of Bekaa arrested four students at Saint Joseph University (USJ) in Zahleh (eastern Lebanon) on charges of slander, libel and public insult following conversations between them on a Facebook webpage that were deemed inappropriate by one of their colleagues who pressed charges against them.

The four students were arrested only a few days before their final exams scheduled on 14 January even though the act the students are accused of committing occurred in November 2007. This raised many questions and fears among parents and colleagues in the university regarding the timing of the arrest, which would deny the students their right to complete their exams and would mean the loss of their academic year.

USJ students staged a sit-in on 14 January to protest the arrests and express solidarity with their four colleagues. The sit-in was also attended by parents of the four students who demanded the immediate release of their children.

In addition to potentially losing their academic year, the students, who are to be tried in front of Zahleh's criminal judge, face jail time of up to one year.

It should be noted that there are no laws in Lebanon governing the electronic media. Instead, there are laws that deal with the print and audio-visual media, and these laws prohibit cautionary arrest in related crimes.

Maharat Foundation stresses the need to abide by the Lebanese legal system in issues related to electronic websites, especially the prohibition of cautionary arrest in cases similar to those covered under current laws governing the print and audio-visual media sectors. The Foundation calls for the immediate release of the four students to protect their rights to freedom of expression and to protect them from the adverse consequences of this illegitimate arrest.

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