Global Freedom of Expression

Español العربية

Faten Ali Qaisar v. United States of America Ambassador Dorothy Shea

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    June 27, 2020
  • Outcome
    Closure/suspension of a media outlet
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Lebanon, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Freedom of press

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Judge of Urgent Matters in the Tyre District of Lebanon issued an order banning all media from conducting interviews with U.S Ambassador Dorothy Shea and reporting on them for a year after she publicly criticized “Hezbollah”, the Iran-backed Shi’ite political party and militant group, that holds a major parliamentary bloc in the government. The complaint was brought by a Lebanese citizen, Faten Ali Qaisar, following the Ambassador’s interview with Saudi-owned TV channel, Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath TV during which the Ambassador made comments that Ali Qaisar considered were “insulting to the Lebanese people.” The Judge emphasized that freedom of expression was paramount and safeguarded by the Lebanese Constitution and its laws, but that its exercise must not violate public order. After having reviewed the content of the interview, the Judge found that Ambassador Shea’s comments incited sectarian strife and infringed on the “psychological rights” of the Lebanese people. The Judge reasoned that any media interviewing Shea would be contributing intentionally or unintentionally to social unrest, and therefore, any media violating the order would be penalized with a one-year suspension and face a $200,000 fine.

The decision was subsequently appealed by local media group, LBCI Lebanon News, and reversed by Judge Yolla Ghotaimi who found that Judge Mohammad Mazeh had exceeded his authority.


Facts

On June 27, 2020, Lebanese citizen Faten Ali Qaisar filed a complaint before the Judge of Urgent Matters in the Tyre District, asking the Court to take necessary measures against the U.S Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, after her interview on Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath TV in which she said that Hezbollah had siphoned billions of dollars from the government and was responsible for the economic and political crisis that Lebanon was going through.

The Court dealt with the application as a matter of urgency and issued its ruling on a Saturday which was not usually a working day for the courts.


Decision Overview

Judge Mohammad Mazeh issued an order banning all media from publishing the U.S Ambassador’s comments for a year or face a fine of $200,000 and a broadcasting ban, following a complaint filed by a citizen claiming that she was offended by the U.S Ambassador’s interview on Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath TV.

The Judge determined that the Court had the authority to adjudicate the matter citing provisions of Article 496 of the Civil Procedure Law which allows for judges to investigate on their own initiative any potential felonies or misdemeanors.

The Judge started by reviewing the U.S Ambassador’s interview with the Saudi-owned TV channel which aired on their Facebook page. After having reviewed the content of the interview, he said that Ambassador Shea’s allegations about Hezbollah incited sectarian strife, threatened social peace and provoked the Lebanese people, turning them against each other and against Hezbollah and what it represents. Her comments were directed against a Lebanese Political party that has strong representation in the Government and a large popular base of support. He said that despite her diplomatic immunity, international treaties and especially the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties forbade any diplomat, no matter which country they represent, from launching sectarian and political strife, which endangers the safety of the people.

Judge Mazeh emphasized that freedom of expression was paramount and safeguarded by the Lebanese Constitution and its laws, but that its exercise must not violate public order. He said the Ambassador was not qualified to talk about internal Lebanese affairs and had “violated the psychological rights and feelings of a large group of Lebanese citizens by the comments she has made regarding Hezbollah”, which he said represented a large number of the population, in addition to having a large legitimate representation in parliament and government alike. Therefore, he found that the U.S Ambassador had violated the Lebanese people’s rights protected in Paragraph 2 of Article 579 of the Civil Procedure Law which states that

“The judge may take measures to eliminate the apparent infringement of rights or legal statuses. If the existence of the debt is not subject to serious dispute, the judge of urgent matters may grant the creditor a temporary advance at the expense of his right”;

The Judge insisted that “the rights mentioned in this article are not limited to material and moral rights, but also includes psychological rights and feelings”.  Assigning blame to Hezbollah for the current financial and political crisis, the Judge warned could ignite civil unrest, which Lebanon and the International Community have made significant efforts to extinguish.

The Judge concluded that since he could not ban the US ambassador from speaking, he could bar the media from interviewing her for a year, and that any media violating this decision would be penalized with a one-year suspension and face a $200,00 fine. The Judge asked the Minister of Information to disseminate this decision to all media outlets.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The decision made by the Judge of Urgent Matters in Tyre District clearly contracts expression by limiting freedom of the press and it was met with criticism from many quarters. For example, the  Minister of Information which is the official authority responsible for handling media complaints, referred to the decision as “unacceptable” and said it violated freedom of the press although she later said her statement did not reflect the government’s stance.

The decision came against the backdrop of Lebanon’s largest ongoing demonstrations for a year and as many activists had been summoned for investigations and even arrested for criticizing politicians on social and other media. Government critics are often accused of creating political strife and indictments based on laws pertaining to public order can have a chilling effect. The day after the ruling several local media expressed that they weren’t willing to abide by the decision, and one, LBCI Lebanon News called it a “non-binding and unenforceable decision which violates freedom of the press”.

Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs summoned the US Ambassador after the ruling in hopes to settle this issue diplomatically, and to reportedly warn her not to intervene in Lebanese domestic political affairs.  The US Ambassador later gave a statement in which she announced that they had “turned the page on this unfortunate distraction so that we can focus on the real crisis at hand which is the deteriorating economic situation,” as reported by Al Araby.

After his ruling and the backlash, Judge Mazeh tendered his resignation which was accepted by the High Judicial Council. Meanwhile LBCI appealed the decision which was subsequently reversed.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

Amicus Briefs and Other Legal Authorities




Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


Attachments:

Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback