Aoun, Hariri Relinquish Personal Rights in Case against Man Accused of Libel

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri have disclaimed their personal rights in the case of the young man who has been arrested over a Facebook post deemed insulting to Lebanon’s top leaders, Hariri said on Tuesday.

“I have agreed with the president to relinquish our personal rights in connection with the judicial prosecution of the young man Ahmad Amhaz, and we have informed the state prosecutor of this,” Hariri tweeted.

Human Rights Watch had on Monday slammed Lebanese authorities for detaining and charging Amhaz, saying his arrest was part of a “troubling pattern.”

“The authorities should free Ahmad Amhaz and drop the charges against him, and parliament should repeal vague and overbroad laws that criminalize free speech,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih.

Amhaz was detained on March 21, apparently over a February Facebook post that criticized Lebanon’s president, premier and speaker of parliament.

On Monday, he appeared before a judge who issued a formal arrest warrant, said Ayman Mhanna, director of Skeyes, a press freedom NGO.

“This is the first time someone is detained pre-trial. This is why we’re very concerned,” he told AFP.

Lebanese law criminalizes libel and defamation of the president, and those found guilty of insulting the president, flag or the national emblem face up to two years in jail.

“Laws that allow imprisonment in response to criticism of individuals or government officials are incompatible with Lebanon’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression,” HRW said, adding that the terms “libel”, “defamation” and “insult” were ill-defined in Lebanese law.

Lebanese authorities have periodically detained and even sentenced citizens for criticizing public officials, but the accused are often pardoned or have their sentences commuted.

Last June, a prominent lawyer was arrested after accusing government officials of possible complicity in a sex trafficking ring.

And in 2014, a Lebanese web developer was sentenced to two months in jail for insulting then president Michel Suleiman on Twitter, although the sentence was eventually overturned.