U.S. Slams Hizbullah's 'Pathetic Attempt to Silence Media'
The U.S. State Department has reacted, after a Lebanese judge banned media from reporting remarks by the U.S. ambassador after she spoke about Hizbullah.
"Hizbullah's attempt to silence the Lebanese media is pathetic. To even think to use the judiciary to silence freedom of speech and freedom of the press is ludicrous. We stand with the Lebanese people and against Hizbullah's censorship," the Department said in a statement.
Ambassador Dorothy Shea for her part called the ruling "unfortunate" in a telephone interview with the local MTV station.
"I think it is a distraction. I wish people would spend their time and attention trying to solve the problems facing the country," she said, adding that the Lebanese government had already apologized to her for the ruling.
"So, no. The U.S. Embassy will not be silenced," she stressed.
The U.S. embassy in Lebanon responded on Twitter, saying "we believe very much in freedom of expression and the important role a free media plays in the United States and Lebanon."
During an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath aired on Friday, Shea had said that the United States has "grave concerns about the role of Hizbullah, a designated terrorist organization."
"It has siphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people," she said. "It has obstructed some of the economic reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs," she added.
On Saturday, Judge Mohammed Mazeh in the southern city of Tyre said he acted after receiving a complaint from a citizen who considered Shea's comments "insulting to the Lebanese people."
The order he issued bans local and foreign media working in the country from airing or publishing locally comments by the U.S. ambassador for a year.
"The U.S. ambassador discussed in her interview a Lebanese party represented in parliament and cabinet and that enjoys a wide popular base," the order said, referring to Hizbullah.
"The U.S. ambassador has no right to talk about this party," the order added, accusing her of promoting internal sedition and strife.
The judge acknowledged that international law gives diplomats immunity but said media could be punished for violating his order.
The court decision reflected the rising tension between the U.S. and Hizbullah. It also revealed a widening rift among groups in Lebanon, which is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
Information Minister Manal Abdul Samad wrote on Twitter the judiciary may be reacting to the interference of some diplomats in the country's affairs. However, "no one has the right to prevent the media from covering news or undermine press freedoms," she wrote.
Any issue pertaining to the media should pass through the information ministry and official judicial channels, she said.
Local broadcaster LBCI said it would not abide by the ruling, calling it a "non-binding and unenforceable" decision that violates freedom of press.
It said it would challenge the ruling in court.
And as critics of Hizbullah called it politicized, others hailed the ban as "brave" on social media, saying Shea had crossed a line by "interfering" in Lebanon's internal affairs.