a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals were free to criticize the government but legally prohibited from discussing the dignity of the president and from insulting him or the president of a foreign country. In such cases the attorney general can automatically refer the publication in question to the judiciary.
Press and Media Freedom: The print media in the country is regulated by the 1962 Publications Law. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the Lebanese president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The Publications Law contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. It also establishes media institutions such as the Press Syndicate. The law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content of the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke the sectarian feuds.
There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. There are no specific laws regulating online speech in the country. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses. Several articles in the penal code criminalize defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Moreover, the military justice code prohibits defamation of the army. Accordingly, individuals, journalists, and bloggers may be prosecuted for what they express online.
The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events and prohibits the broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers, based on a recommendation by the minister of information, to broadcast direct and indirect political news and programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that seek to affect the general system, harm the state or its relations with Arab and other foreign countries, or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.
Violence and Harassment: Broadcast journalists continued to suffer from intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically classified” areas to report without removing brandings and logos that referenced the outlets. Outlets that sought to report in areas classified as Hizballah areas must obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.
On February 13, hundreds of protesters surrounded the building of al-Jadeed TV following a show they believed offended Amal Movement leader and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. Protesters threw stones at the building and attempted to storm it. A cameraman and an employee were slightly injured. The incident was followed by blocking the television station’s transmission in several areas of the southern suburbs of Beirut. The channel remained off the air until November 25.
On May 11, two unidentified persons burned al-Jadeed TV vehicles in the parking lot of the television station. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident; however, no one had been arrested or charged by year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law permits, and authorities selectively used, prior censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship among journalists.
The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine.
Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. In some cases authorities might deem the offending material a threat to national security. Authorities did not take such offenses to trial based on the publication law, but rather on the basis of criminal law or other statutes. Publishing a book without prior approval that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.
Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request the DGS to ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to one NGO, as of December the government opened more than 30 cases in the publications court during the year.
Libel/Slander Laws: The 1991 security agreement between the Lebanese and Syrian governments, still in effect at year’s end, contained a provision prohibiting the publication of any information deemed harmful to the security of either state.
On April 5, the Court of Publication fined journalists Thaer Ghandour, Ibrahim al-Amin, and Hasan Sabra over allegations of defamation and slander. On November 10, the Justice Ministry asked the state prosecutor general to launch an investigation into comments made by two Saudi commentators who defamed and slandered Lebanese state officials on a local television talk show.
Nongovernmental Impact: Radical Islamist groups sometimes sought to inhibit freedom of the press through coercion and threats of violence.
The law does not restrict access to the internet. There was, however, a perception among the general public that the government monitored email and social media activity. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet.
The ISF’s Cyber Crimes Unit and other state agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures.
Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. There were also reports of political groups intimidating individuals and activists for their online posts.
In March authorities arrested and detained an activist over Facebook posts criticizing senior officials, including the president. He was interrogated without a lawyer and released on bail after nine days of detention. On August 17, the DGS detained another activist due to his social media posts, which criticized Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, along with the Syrian and Iranian regimes and their political allies in Lebanon. After his release, the activist said authorities harassed and threatened him regarding further criticism of Hizballah and its allies.
Internet access was available and widely used by the public. According to the Internet World Statistics, internet penetration was 76 percent as of March.
On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.
For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There are no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.
The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.
During the year the government censored and barred the screening of at least two films. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups. Cultural figures and those involved in the arts practiced self-censorship to avoid being detained or refused freedom of movement.
In May the Ministry of Economy banned the movie Wonder Woman because the lead actress was Israeli. A group called Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon prompted the ban.
On September 10, DGS officials interrogated director Ziad Douweiry at Beirut International Airport as he returned from the Venice Film Festival. At the airport the DGS confiscated Douweiry’s Lebanese and French passports and requested that he appear in military court the following day for further questioning. Reportedly, Douwiery filmed some scenes of one of his movies in Israel. On September 11, authorities released Douweiry and filed no charges against him.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration. In previous years the ministry sometimes did not grant permits to groups that opposed government positions, but there were no known examples of this restriction being applied during the year.
Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when clashes broke out between opposing protesters.
On March 19, protesters gathered in downtown Beirut to denounce proposed tax hikes being considered in parliament to fund a wage increase for public-sector employees. On September 26-28, another group of protesters organized in Beirut and Baabda to denounce the annulment of these tax hikes.
On June 16, military personnel beat and kicked protesters in downtown Beirut who demonstrated against a third extension of parliament’s term, according to Human Rights Watch. The military investigation of involved personnel continued at year’s end.
On April 24, a court acquitted four persons and convicted one minor in relation to large protests over waste management issues in 2015.
Several LGBTI-friendly NGOs canceled events during the year due to pressure on their venues from religious groups.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.
No prior authorization is required to form an association, but the Ministry of Interior must be notified for it to be recognized as legal, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects public order, public morals, and state security. The ministry sometimes imposed additional, inconsistent restrictions and requirements and withheld approval. In some cases the ministry sent notification of formation papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or positions on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so may result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.
The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).
Independent NGOs in areas under Hizballah’s sway faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations.
As of June 30, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered more than one million Syrian refugees, 18,708 Iraqis, more than 2,200 Sudanese refugees, and refugees of other nationalities in the country. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provided assistance to Palestinian refugees registered in the country. While approximately 458,000 Palestinians registered as refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon, the estimated number actually living in Lebanon was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). PRS in Lebanon numbered almost 33,000, according to a UNRWA count completed on October 2. According to a census carried out during the year jointly by the Lebanese and Palestinian Statistics Administrations, however, there were approximately 174,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Multiple NGOs and UNHCR shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by government, employers, and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage or nonconsensual sex for their daughters.
The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Refugees regularly reported abuse by members of political parties and gangs, often without official action in response. Additionally, LAF raids on settlements often resulted in harassment and destruction of personal property.
According to UNHCR, domestic courts often sentenced Iraqi and African refugees registered with UNHCR to one month’s imprisonment and fines instead of deporting them for illegal entry. After serving their sentences, most refugees remained in detention unless they found employment sponsors and the DGS agreed to release them in coordination with UNHCR.
In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The DGS, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the DGS generally approved such transfers.
Prior to February authorities required Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR to pay a renewal fee of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) for each person 15 years old or above, every 12 months if the person wished to remain lawfully in the country as a refugee. Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after January 2015 must have entered with a Lebanese sponsor. Most refugees had difficulty affording the fees. In February the DGS announced it was waiving the fee for residency renewal for refugees who registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship, tourism, property ownership, or tenancy in 2015 or 2016. While some DGS offices began implementing this change, the actual number of beneficiaries remained limited due to the low capacity of DGS offices, as well as divergent or inconsistent practices at the local levels.
Due to the slow implementation of the residency fee waiver and, in many cases, failure to obtain or keep a Lebanese sponsor, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of regular arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees met by foreign diplomats said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them. In March 2016 the United Nations’ joint household assessment of more than 100,000 refugee families indicated that 85 percent of refugee households had at least one member without legal status. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for Iraqi refugees and refugees of other nationalities.
Since 2014 entry visas for PRS were granted at the border only to persons with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Most of these individuals were issued a 24-hour transit visa. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured a visa for Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that approximately 3 percent of the PRS in the country arrived in 2016.
Compared to the policy applied to Syrian nationals, authorities applied tighter conditions to PRS (notwithstanding restrictions on Syrians announced in January 2015). For example, Syrian nationals could, in principle, enter with humanitarian visas, while this was not available to PRS. Some PRS consequently sought to enter the country through irregular border crossings, placing them at additional risk of exploitation and abuse and creating an obstacle to later regularizing their legal status.
On July 8, DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited extension of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delays. It applied to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016 and granted renewal of residency visas to those PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use documents that were easier to obtain in Lebanon rather than requiring children to return to Syria to obtain them. This latter point was not implemented for Syrian refugees. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings; PRS who entered the country through official border crossings, but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa; or PRS who were issued a departure order.
UNRWA estimated that as of September 2016 approximately 40 percent of PRS in the country did not hold valid legal residency.
On October 6, the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS was waived, expanding the application of a previous circular issued on September 12 applicable to Syrians.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom approximately 27,000 were registered Palestine refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. As of October approximately 53 percent of displaced families returned to newly reconstructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. According to UNHCR, authorities detained refugees and non-Syrian asylum seekers through June, of whom 148 remained in detention at the end of the year. Through August the DGS deported four persons despite UNHCR’s interventions. UNHCR continued to intervene with authorities to request the release of persons of concern who were detained either beyond their sentence or for illegal entry or presence.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees.
Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land; they were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 labor law revision expanded employment rights and removed some restrictions on Palestinian refugees. This law was not fully implemented, however, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.
As of June 30, there were more than one million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in Lebanon after January 2015. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Many Syrian refugees resided with host families or in unfinished substandard buildings, and approximately 18 percent lived in temporary tent settlements, usually with dirt floors, no plumbing, and with a portable heater for winter. According to a UN study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.
In 2015 new government regulations banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.
UNRWA reported that the DGS issued some PRS departure orders despite their having paid the renewal fee. Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it allowed refugees to pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.
In addition to more than 18,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees already residing in the country, there was a limited influx of Iraqi refugees who entered the country seeking to escape violence from the fight against ISIS. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered 3,530 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities usually enforced them on Syrian refugees only.
Evictions of Syrian refugees occurred in the aftermath of major security incidents and often targeted informal refugee settlements due to their proximity to LAF installations or vital supply routes. According to UNHCR, following the LAF order to evict settlements surrounding the Riyak Airbase in the Bekaa Valley in March, 557 Syrian refugee households (estimated 3,175 individuals) from this area reportedly relocated elsewhere in the country. In addition to the evictions in the Riyak area, Zahle municipality also issued eviction notices to Syrian refugee families starting in the first quarter and continuing in the second quarter of the year.
Employment: During the year authorities began requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.
The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retired or resigned. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).
Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.
The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country had changed only marginally since 1948, despite a four-fold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which were heavily damaged during past conflicts. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.
A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp and surrounding communities in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, however, and a shortfall of 159 million Lebanese pounds ($106 million) remained at year’s end. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the crisis, authorities expected approximately 21,000 to return.
A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs, but individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to public health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics. UNRWA’s verification exercise in 2016 found that there were approximately 32,500 PRS recorded with the agency, which reflected a decrease of more than 10,000 PRS in the country over the previous 12 months.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of 195,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools in the 2016-17 academic year, or 41 percent of the more than 488,000 registered Syrian refugee children between the ages of three and 18. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR’s education partners reported that authorities enrolled approximately 600 Iraqi children in formal public schools for the 2016-17 school year, and it provided grants to the children’s families to help defray the costs associated with attending school. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care.
Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and, increasingly, Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons passed to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately 3,000 Palestinian refugees were not registered with UNRWA or the government. Also known as undocumented Palestinians, most of these individuals moved to the country after the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in 1971. Palestinians faced restrictions on movement and lacked access to fundamental rights under the law. Undocumented Palestinians, who were not registered in other fields, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of undocumented Palestinians were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.
The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs continued to extend late registration to Palestinian refugee children under age 10. It was previously the directorate’s policy to deny late birth registration to Palestinian refugee children who were above age two. Children between 10 and 20 years old were registered only after the following were completed: a DNA test, an investigation by the DGS, and the approval of the directorate.
Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities denied them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and other obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 due to a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.
Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, and own or inherit property.