17 June 2020: According to the National News Agency, visual artist Pascale Tarraf was interrogated at the State Security branch centre in Dekwaneh, Lebanon. Later that day, she was transferred to Baabda State Security branch, where after an investigation, she was released.
The artist was questioned because of her critiques of President Michel Aoun and his mandate in her Facebook posts. The Megaphone online independent media platform reported that the interrogation followed Ghassan Ouediat State Prosecutor´s announcement that the judicial system will start prosecuting everyone who criticises the president online. He said that those who found guilty will be prosecuted for slander and defamation. In February 2020, along with various artists and a significant number of citizens, Tarraf also participated in the “Lebanese Creativity Day” in Martyrs’ Square, Central Beirut, reported to The Megaphone. The theme of the works of arts displayed were in support of the people’s movement, which aspires to move “towards an advanced Lebanon, free from corruption and thieves”, reported the National News Agency.
Since the second half of 2019, the heightened political tensions are generating continuous mass demonstrations in Lebanon. The protests are against the ruling political class who stand accused of mass corruption and poor governance. According to The National, on the morning of 17 June, a dozen Lebanese demonstrators bound their hands with rope in front of Beirut’s Justice Palace to protest against the government´s plans to stop criticism of the president on social media.
For its State of Artistic Freedom 2020 report, Freemuse spoke with Areej Abou Harb, Cultural Manager and Co-founder of the Beirut-based cultural organisation Me’zaf on the subject of the Lebanese cultural sector and what he described as the ‘continuous crisis’ involving artists and artistic spaces.
“The independent cultural sector has been in growth since after the civil war. However, the role they are performing and its efficiency was always a controversial topic… [and] has been censured from different parties.”
You can read more about the current circumstances of artistic freedom in Lebanon in the State of Artistic Freedom Report 2020.