In a new attempt to suppress journalists and activists and silence them, The Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Protection Bureau subpoenaed Editor in Chief of “Sharika wa Laken” and the Executive Director of FEMALE Organization, journalist and feminist activist, Hayat Mirshad, to appear before the Bureau next Thursday, on June 1.

The Bureau, an affiliate to the Internal Security Forces (ISF), requested that Hayat Mirshad appear before them in response to a “libel and slander” complaint filed against her by theater director Joe Kodeih.

This came in the wake of demands launched by “Sharika wa Laken” last April, to boycott a play written and directed by Kodeih, which was to be shown at Monot Theater. The calls were an expression of solidarity with a number of women and girls survivors who exposed Kodeih’s repeated sexual and physical harassment of them.

Nonetheless, in a flagrant violation of the law, the Appellate Public Prosecutor in Beirut, Judge Zaher Hmedeh, insists that Mirshad appear for investigation before the Cybercrime Bureau, despite Mirshad’s presenting her membership card in the Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate, and proving that the lawsuit is related to her journalistic work.

This constitutes a blatant violation of the rights of journalists whereby Judge Hmedeh violates the Publications Law, especially Articles 28 and 29, which stipulate that if the publications lawsuit requires an investigation with a journalist, “the investigation judge must carry it out”.

We, hereby, stress colleague Hayat Mirshad’s right of non-compliance with the summons, because she is a journalist in the first place, and additionally due to the fact that the only body authorized to follow up on such cases is the Publications Court. Accordingly, Farouk Moughrbi, the lawyer assigned with the case, went on Thursday, May 11, to The Cybercrime Bureau to inform them of the decision of non-compliance with the summons.

However, instead of fulfilling their duty of implementing the laws stipulated in the Lebanese constitution, the Cybercrime Bureau summoned colleague Hayat Mirshad, once again, because Judge Zaher Hmedeh refused Mirshad’s decision not to appear before the Bureau, and requested her presence on Thursday, May 25. Nevertheless, given that this date falls on an official holiday in Lebanon, compliance has been postponed to Thursday, June 1.

We call on the Lebanese judiciary to play its obvious role in ensuring protection for women, and achieving justice for survivors of systematic violence against them by aggressors, harassers, and rapists, instead of summoning activists and journalists who expose these practices and crimes.

We also ask the Public Prosecution Office at the Court of Cassation to decide on the request submitted by the representative of colleague Hayat Mirshad, and to urge the Appellate Public Prosecutor to reverse his reference.

As we regard this procedure a continuation of the systematic campaign against public freedoms in Lebanon, we affirm that we are resuming our battle to protect our freedom and preserve our rights as journalists with all available means of protest and pressure.

We also call on the Lebanese Press Editors Syndicate to take action to defend the rights of its affiliate journalists. It is rather worthier to combat the abuses and violations that media workers are exposed to, than pursuing press gatherings that raise their voices against systematic repression.

Amid the daily backlash and threats that lurk around the feminist movement in Lebanon, and with the rise of security and legal prosecutions, it is appalling to see that the Lebanese judiciary is distracted by campaigns aimed at silencing feminist activists and journalists instead of protecting their right to publication and expression.

It is worth noting that this is the third legal proceeding against “Sharika wa Laken”, before The Cybercrime Bureau in 2023, due to previous press coverages the platform made in support of survivors of different form of gender-based violence.

At the time crimes and attacks against women and girls abound in Lebanon, the above mentioned Bureau has become a tool used by attackers and perpetrators to muffle the voices of activists and journalists and those working to expose systematic violence and violations against women.

Hence, we emphasize the principle of believing women and girls survivors of violence no matter the number of attempts made at silencing us, and we stress our journalistic role in making the survivors’ voices heard until justice is served for them.