TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Separate attacks targeting two journalists who have been covering the ongoing violence in the north drew condemnation from political and professional circles over the weekend as fighting picked up again Sunday night between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen.Early Saturday morning, Agence France Presse photographer Ghassan Sweidan and a relative were accosted and severely beaten as they were making their way home to Wadi al-Nahleh just outside the Beddawi refugee camp. The assailants were armed with knives and pistols, Sweidan said.
Sweidan was taken to a nearby hospital where he was in stable condition Sunday night. Sweidan told The Daily Star that two of the assailants had been identified and the police were following up on the case.
The incident, Sweidan said, was only the latest in a series of threats and intimidation he had been exposed to.
Saturday evening, Damoua al-Asmar, a reporter with Ad-Diyar newspaper, had to be rescued by the Army after her home in Tripoli was surrounded by angry Islamists who threatened to set the residence on fire in retaliation for an article she wrote about the role of Salafists in the battle raging across the border in the Syrian town of Qusair.
A local group of journalists working in the north condemned the attacks and announced their intention to hold a sit-in in front of judicial offices in Tripoli Tuesday, uniting under the banner “Pen, Camera and an Olive Branch.”
Tripoli Mayor Nader Ghazal issued a statement condemning repeated attacks on journalists for fulfilling their professional duty.
“Rather than thanking them for their efforts, we find some who harbor no loyalty to this city and who attack [journalists] for reasons that are known only to them,” Ghazal said in the statement, which was issued on the anniversary of former Prime Minister Rashid Karami’s assassination. Ghazal urged the police to help protect media employees in Lebanon, particularly Tripoli.
The Future Movement in Tripoli also issued a statement condemning the “repeated attacks” against the press, including the assault on a film crew from LBC that was filming the fighting in Tripoli, as well as the attack on Sweidan. Future called on the Journalists Union to take “more serious” action to protect journalists, and on the police to investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice to serve as an example.
Elias Aoun, the head of the Journalists’ Union, denounced the threats issued against Asmar, promising “wide-scale mobilization” in response to what he described as an “attack on the free Lebanese press.”
“Positions should be countered with positions, and thought with thought, but [resorting to] threats of violence and using weapons against a respected colleague doing her job to the fullest is contradictory to the most basic principles of human rights,” Aoun said.
Aoun told The Daily Star that he would be meeting with union officials and politicians in the coming days to discuss a plan of action, and even suggested the possibility of boycotting coverage of certain political groups.
“It doesn’t matter what you write; they will behave how they want,” he said, adding: “Anyone with arms in this country has political cover.”
Asmar’s employer, Ad-Diyar, featured the incident on its front page, expressing thanks on behalf of the editorial team to Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi for his efforts in deploying the Army and dispersing the would-be attackers.
By Antoine Amrieh