(NEW YORK)– PEN America said today the one-year prison sentence imposed on Lebanese journalist Dima Sadek as the result of a former government minister’s defamation lawsuit against her underscores the escalating effort to intimidate journalists and other critics who dare to speak against them.

A Lebanese court sentenced Sadek to prison and imposed a fine of $7,300 in response to a lawsuit filed by Free Patriotic Movement leader and former Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil three years ago.

Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead at PEN America, said: “The verdict against Dima Sadek is deeply concerning, as it shows the escalating attacks on critical speech by Lebanon’s politically powerful and well-connected. Using the courts to go after journalists, activists, and critics who dare to speak out undermines free expression and the rule of law. This sentence, and all other rulings against Lebanese journalists and commentators, should be reversed,” said Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead at PEN America.

Gebran’s lawsuit against Sadek in criminal court accused her of defamation and inciting sectarian strife, in response to Sadek tweeting about supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement assaulting two men and describing their actions as “racist” and “Nazi-like.” Sadek remains free while she appeals the verdict.

Sadek’s case fits within a broader pattern of legal complaints and intimidation against journalists and critics of the Lebanese government or political actors. Earlier this year, Lara Bitar, editor-in-chief of The Public Source, was summoned to appear before Lebanon’s cybercrime bureau after a political party, Lebanese Forces, filed a complaint against her after she published an article reporting on toxic waste in Lebanon. Around the same time, state security officers summoned Jean Kassir, managing editor and co-founder of the news website Megaphone, to appear before the public prosecutor for the outlet’s Twitter post claiming that Lebanon was ruled by “fugitives from justice.”

Journalists, writers, and ordinary people in Lebanon also face threats and intimidation generally for criticizing political actors. Prominent writer, publisher and filmmaker Lokman Slim was found shot dead in his car on February 4, 2021. Slim was critical of the government and in particular the Lebanese political party Hezbollah, and many in the country believe he was assassinated in retaliation for his criticism.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057