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Journalist charged with "insulting" president following critical comments in TV show

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 10 November 2009 - A Lebanese journalist with Al-Kalima newspaper, Simon Abou Fadel, has been charged with "insulting" the president after criticising his role in months-long efforts to create a national unity cabinet - which was formed on Monday - in a show aired by private broadcaster MTV, on Wednesday (4 November).

Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper reported that if convicted Abou Fadel could face a fine and jail time of up to one year.

Abou Fadel told the International Press Institute (IPI) by phone that he was first contacted by the public prosecutor on Thursday afternoon, and told to appear before him on Monday, when he was charged with insulting the president.

"I said in my (television) interview that the president should be more present in the establishment of the government," Abou Fadel told IPI by phone. "I am a journalist. I said what the people are saying. I offer analysis. I didn't insult the president."

MTV's news and current affairs director, Ghayath Yazbeck, expressed surprise at the decision to prosecute Abou Fadel.

"From my side, I consider that the journalist did not insult the president at all," he told IPI. "He criticized (the president's) management of the country and asked him to do his job, and I can't find anything to explain this attitude from the president."

Yazbeck added: "This is the first time that this president has taken the decision (to use this law)."

Abou Fadel told IPI that he had hired a lawyer, but was not yet sure when he would have to appear in court.

The decision to prosecute Abou Fadel for his remarks about the president comes as Lebanon's prime minister announced the formation of a unity government, after five months of deadlocked negotiations between majority and opposition groups.

Following an IPI press freedom mission to Lebanon in October, IPI expressed concern at the fact that journalists are still prosecuted under criminal defamation laws - which fuel self-censorship. IPI suggested that grievances be pursued through appropriate methods of voluntary self-regulation.

"Despite the fact that in recent times in Lebanon journalists rarely go to jail in cases like this, IPI calls on President Suleiman and the Lebanese authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Simon Abou Fadel, who has the right to report on news and express his opinion as a journalist," said IPI Director David Dadge. "Further, the new unity government should repeal criminal defamation and insult laws as a matter of priority, because such legislation can be used to target critical journalists, or as a means of silencing critical media outlets."

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