Lebanese journalists assaulted in brawl at customs office

Four TV reporters were detained in Lebanon after a brawl at a customs office in Beirut that led to a demonstration by journalists from rival media outlets who were joined by citizens and activists.

The crew from the TV channel Al-Jadeed arrived at the Downtown customs office in the hope of securing an interview with customs director Shafiq Merhi about allegations of corruption at Rafik Hariri airport linked to smuggling.

He had previously refused to speak to the journalists who work for the programme Tahta Ta’ilat al-Mas’ouliya (Subject to accountability).

The journalists employed innovative tactics outside the customs office, using a megaphone to demand that Merhi speak to them and posted his picture on one of their vans.

Fighting then broke out between customs security staff and the TV crew in the street. The journalists claim to have been beaten while their equipment was smashed.

When news spread of the crew being then held inside the customs office, other journalists turned up to show solidarity with them. At one time 100 people were gathered outside the office.

After several fights broke out, the army was deployed. Eventually, four Al-Jadeed staff were taken in for interrogation by the police. They were identified as Riyad Qobeissi, Ali Shreim, Adib Farhat and Ali Khalife.

They were released after being told the incident would be referred to the public prosecutor’s office. Both the customs general directorate and Al-Jadeed TV filed official complaints about each other’s behaviour.

In a news report, Al-Jadeed described the customs’ security staff’s action as a “cruel, militia-type attack.”

But the customs directorate issued a statement saying the journalists used degrading language and accused the TV crew of attempting to break into the building.

Ali Ibrahim, an Al-Jadeed technician who was caught up in the violence, said he was hit with an AK-47. Media footage of the protest shows a security man thrusting the barrel of his gun into Ibrahim’s face.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, appeared to support the journalists in stressing the need to “respect the freedom of the media.”

And information minister Walid Daouk, who condemned the assault, expressed his support for the station.

Source: Daily Star

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