On World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every year 3 May 2019, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the MENA region launched the “Beirut Affirmation” developed during the Freedom of Expression workshop held on Friday 1 March 2019.
The “Beirut Affirmation” is a set of recommendations raised by the participants of the aforementioned event paving the way for a road map to promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion, expression and the press.
1. We, parliamentarians, journalists, academics, civil society actors and other stakeholders, affirm Lebanon’s commitment to the international standards of the right to freedom of expression as expressed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), acceded by Lebanon on 3 November 1972.
2. Recognizing that the realization of the right to freedom of expression enables vibrant, multi-faceted public interest debate giving voice to different perspectives and viewpoints, we affirm that the absence of laws protecting the right to freedom of expression is just as harmful as the presence of laws that limit its practice. Moreover, for protective laws to be effective, they must be crafted with care and their key terms must be clearly defined so as not to allow interpretations that violate freedom of expression.
3. We assert that limitations of speech must be an exception, not the norm. To that end a high threshold should be adopted when defining restrictions on freedom of expression based on advocacy or incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, while restrictions based on protecting national security or public order have to adhere to the strict test of legality, necessity and proportionality.
4. We affirm that it is especially imperative that uninhibited expression and criticism be guaranteed when it comes to public and political figures in order to insure free public debate in the setting of a democratic society.
5. We acknowledge that blasphemy laws may inhibit and censure all religious debate, dialogue and criticism and that freedom of religion does not guarantee the right to suppress religious criticism, most of which could be constructive and healthy.
6. We assert that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation, and that laws must ensure a fair balance between protection of a person’s reputation and protection of the right to freedom of expression.
7. We affirm that monitoring and regulating online content should not be heavy-handed nor viewpoint-based, and that the appropriate arbiters of lawful expression are judicial authorities, not government agencies.
8. We assert the importance of a free uncensored and unhindered press or other media, able to comment on public issues and criticize public figures without restraint or fear and to operate independently in order to inform public opinion in a democratic society.
· Renew Parliament’s commitment to supervising the proper implementation of laws protecting the right to freedom of expression in order to minimize the misapplication of such laws as well as the refusal to implement or attempts to bypass them.
· Guarantee the right of the media to report on corruption, crimes and mismanagement committed by public figures acting in their official capacity, without fear of prosecution and criminalization.
· Reviewing the role of the National Media Council and its independence from political authorities, granting it executive authority, defining the mechanisms by which it is formed, including professionals in its structure and freeing it from political interference.
· Following up on the ministerial statement of the “Kulluna Lilaamal” Government which stipulated the abolition of the Ministry of Information, especially as it will entail the restructuring of the Supreme Council of Information and ensuring the independence of this Council, which will "manage and develop the media sector in Lebanon."
· Operationalize law No. 28/2017 on the right to access information by the public and establish a national commission to implement it.
· Abolish all repressive penalties related to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, including penalties for defamation, blasphemy, and contempt of religion.
· Establish an independent media licensing authority with the power to examine media applications, including for audio-visual and electronic media, and grant licences in accordance with reasonable and objective criteria.
· Abolish the provisional arrest of persons who exercise the right to freedom of expression regardless of the person’s status or medium of expression including social media, and abolish the prison sentence in relation to charges of defamation.
· Define the scope of work of the Cybercrimes Bureau of the Internal Security Forces by clarifying its jurisdiction and functions.