On 23 March 2015, Freemuse, Pen International and Pen Lebanon submitted a Universal Periodic Review about Lebanon to the United Nations – for consideration at the 23rd session of the UN working group in October 2015.
“Lebanon rather than supporting its creative industries and artists is making several hindrances to artistic freedom and creativity through nontransparent censorship practices and provisions,” said Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse.
“Lebanon is failing to give due weight to its international obligations to enshrine the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and artistic freedom. Collectively these rights construct an environment crucial for the execution of all human rights; as such Lebanon must make it a priority to implement its UPR recommendations,” said Carles Turner, Executive Director of PEN International.
PEN International in collaboration with FREEMUSE, the World Forum on Music and Censorship, and PEN Lebanon have submitted a joint report to the Working Group on the UPR for Lebanon, with a specific focus on the protection of artistic freedom.
The freedom to create art is increasingly recognised as an important human right internationally. It is enabled by other fundamental rights particularly liberty, freedom of association, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The exercise of artistic freedom also supports these fundamental rights by engendering cultures that affirm the inherent and equal dignity of the person.
During its 2010 Universal Periodic Review, Lebanon expressed support for a number of recommendations relevant to the enjoyment of free expression and artistic freedom. Lebanon is a country rich with artistic creation, yet unfortunately this is not afforded due protection and respect.
Artistic works for Lebanese television, film, and theatrical stage are subject to censorship analysis undertaken by the Directorate General of General Security; a role which holds vast discretionary powers. The censorship process lacks clear regulatory guidelines and operates free from any timeframe, resulting in judgments that are arbitrary, selective, and inconsistent.
Lebanon also fails to abide by its international commitments to fully protect the artistic freedoms of its citizens by subjecting print and audiovisual materials to problematic censorship via the Court of Publications, a specialised court dedicated to the settlement of disputes involving journalists and publications.
A review of verdicts reveals that the Court systematically gives greater weight to concerns about defamation and privacy than to the right of freedom of expression. Over the space of eight months in 2014, prosecutors, mostly politicians and officials, won 37 out of 40 lawsuits.
Despite Lebanon’s commitment to free expression legislation also exists to criminalise contempt, libel and defamation against the president, other public officials, and judges. The threat of prison has a chilling effect on freedom of expression and although defamation cases in Lebanon typically result in journalists being fined, not imprisoned, a rise in the number of cases resulting in imprisonment is an alarming indication of increasing constraints.
Freedom of assembly, although guaranteed by the national constitution, also faces serious constraints. Last year law suits were issued, and arrests were made, against actors who denounced the interests of powerful entities such as members of parliament and big companies. Additionally freedom of association is particularly hampered for foreign bodies as associations may only include one foreigner for every four Lebanese, and the establishment of a foreign association can only be issued by decree of ministerial council, which is a complicated process that may take years.
Finally, since 2010, digital freedom for writers has come under pressure from the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau, which has interrogated numerous journalists, bloggers, and social media users and has compelled them to sign pledges not to repeat their alleged offences. Blogger Rita Kamel was interrogated over a blog post criticising the Pan Arab Web Awards Academy; she was required to pledge not to repeat the offense. Likewise the journalist Rabih Farran was called in for questioning based on a complaint over an article on the al-Mukhtar news site and was forced to pledge not to repeat the offense.
PEN and Freemuse recommend that Lebanon adopt the following measures:
1. Decriminalise defamation by repealing Articles 384 to 386, 388, and 582 to 584 of the Lebanese Penal Code.
2. Amend Legislative Decree No. 2 and any other law permitting prior censorship of theatrical, broadcast or printed material to ensure that freedom of expression, which Freemuse/PEN International UPR submission-Lebanon 8 includes the right to receive or impart information is protected in line with Lebanon’s international obligations.
3. Enact legislation guaranteeing freedom of information and protecting whistleblowers.
4. Submit all outstanding reports to UN Human Rights Mechanisms, in particular on Lebanon’s implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR.
5. Review the legal basis of the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau and restrict its operation to technical matters in support of lawful investigations.
6. Ensure that the Summary Affairs judiciary does not engage in prior censorship.
» Open or download the submission report: PDF document
» Link to the URP submission report as uploaded to PEN International’s website: