Al-Jadeed Crew Freed after being Beaten, Detained by Customs Agents in Downtown Beirutإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Customs agents on Tuesday assaulted and arrested an al-Jadeed TV crew near the security agency's headquarters in downtown Beirut, which sparked protests and broad solidarity with the detained journalists.
The four journalists were released on Tuesday evening after several hours of detention.
Following a lawsuit filed by al-Jadeed, the Central Criminal Investigations Department started interrogating the crew under the supervision of acting State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud.
They were later released after being examined by a forensic doctor.
Earlier, Hammoud stressed that “the judiciary is with freedoms, not against them.”
According to al-Jadeed channel, “Tahet Taelat al-Masouliya” crew were beaten up by Customs agents over an episode on the “corruption at the airport customs.”
Riad Qobeissi, Adeeb Farhat, Ali Shreim and Ali Khalifeh were arrested by the security agency.
According to the channel, the four men were referred to the public prosecution for further investigations.
Qobeissi and the crew were allegedly calling through speaker on acting director of Customs Shafiq Merhi to give them an interview when Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Shamseddine gave customs members an order to beat and detain them.
Al-Jadeed reported that the crew had an approval from the Finance Ministry to interview Merhi, who refused to meet them.
Several activists and journalists gathered near the customs headquarters demanding the swift release of the four men, but Customs agents again resorted to the same behavior and assaulted the protesters who were rallying in the location.
“We condemn the attacks against journalists and the competent court will adopt the necessary measures in this respect,” caretaker Information Minister Walid Daouq told al-Jadeed later on Tuesday.
For his part, caretaker Labor Minister Salim Jreissati told LBCI television that “attacking journalists is unacceptable and investigative journalism helps institutions to recognize their mistakes.”
Meanwhile, National Media Council chief Abdul Hadi Mahfoud said that “what is surprising is that the state transformed into a militia and beat up civilians and journalists instead of protecting them.”
On the ground, the army took strict security measures around the Customs building in Sidon after youth groups called for a sit-in, according to MTV.
The seaside road in Sidon near the Customs office was later blocked in protest at the assault on al-Jadeed's crew.
A mass rally was also held outside the Justice Palace in Beirut in solidarity with the detained men.
On Monday evening, the Lebanese Customs Administration issued a statement saying Qobeissi shouted "slogans that insult the Customs Administration and its director general … and this is not the appropriate manner to request an interview.”
“The commotion continued for a long time before the agents tasked with protecting and guarding the public administration's headquarters intervened and asked them to stop the shameful act they were doing, but they did not respond,” the statement added.
“At that point, one of the Customs agents tried to remove the director general's picture that was posted on one of the cars, but he was faced by a tirade of insults and manhandling,” the statement noted, accusing the journalists of attempting to “storm” the administration's building.
“After warning them, some guards intervened to defend the HQ, protect their colleague, put an end to this abnormal situation and arrest the violators in line with the applicable laws,” the statement said.
The Customs Administration condemned what it called “this unprecedented attack,” urging al-Jadeed's administration to show “journalistic ethics” in dealing with “public administrations and institutions” and in “broadcasting facts objectively and without deliberate distortion.”
It said it reserves "its right to take the appropriate legal measures against anyone involved in plotting or executing this attack and against those who kept waging media campaigns ahead of any judicial investigations."