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Lebanese journalist Rami Aysha sentenced to six months in jail in absentia

UPDATE: On 9 December 2013 a military court in Beirut passed a two-week sentence against journalist Rami Aysha, replacing the six-month sentence he received when tried in absentia last month. (RSF, 11 December 2013)

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on Lebanese authorities to withdraw all proceedings against the journalist Rami Aysha after it emerged that last week he received a six month jail sentence in absentia from a Beirut military court on a charge of purchasing firearms.

According to reports, Aysha, a freelance reporter/journalist in Lebanon, was arrested on 30 August 2012 while investigating a story on weapons deportation in Beirut. He was released a month later pending trial. When the trial was finally scheduled for 25 November this year he was working abroad and requested, through his lawyer, that it was postponed until 8 December. But the judge in charge of the case rejected the request, went ahead with the hearing and convicted him absentia.

IFJ's Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), says that Aysha, who is currently outside the country, has learnt that his name has been passed to Lebanon's immigration department and he will be arrested upon his planned return to Beirut this Sunday, 8 December. In reports Aysha says that after his arrest he will be held indefinitely by Lebanese authorities pending a new trial before the military court, but he will still be in detention during the trial which could result in the judgement being confirmed and him being sentenced to prison.

"We call on Lebanese authorities to withdraw all the proceedings against Rami Aysha and to quash his conviction with immediate effect," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "Aysha was carrying a journalistic investigation into arms trafficking, he was not involved in the illicit practice. If the freedom of press in Lebanon is to be maintained, then Lebanese authorities must let Aysha enter the country as a free man, without fear of arrest."

According to media reports, Aysha was abducted on 30 August 2013 while investigating weapons trafficking in Beirut's southern suburbs. He was kidnapped and handed over to Lebanese military police where his mistreatment continued. He was subsequently charged with involvement in importing weapons, the story he was investigating at the time of his kidnapping.

The MEAA has sent a letter to the Lebanese Ambassador to Australia expressing its concerns for Aysha's welfare, and calling for the Ambassador to take the actions required to protect his safety.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Lebanon: Military court sentences reporter in absentia to six months in prison

    “We call for the definitive withdrawal of all the proceedings against Aysha and the quashing of his conviction,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As a journalist, Aysha was doing a story on arms trafficking when arrested. It is crucial that the Lebanese judicial authorities distinguish between journalistic investigation and illicit trafficking. Any confusion of this kind poses a major threat to the future of freedom of information in Lebanon. We also condemn the use of military courts to prosecute journalists. The authorities must leave Aysha in peace when he returns to Lebanon on 8 December. His arrest would be unacceptable.”

  • Threat to Four Corners' Lebanese Colleague

    MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren says: "It would seem an appalling mistreatment of Rami and contrary to his human rights to convict him in absentia without properly producing evidence against him or testing the evidence in properly constituted court proceedings."

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