BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese media aired interviews with the U.S. ambassador on Sunday, ignoring a judge’s decision that banned the diplomat from television for a year over comments criticizing the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with the United States Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 11, 2020. Dalati Nohra / Flyer via REUTERS
Hezbollah is the main political force behind the Lebanese government. Washington considers the heavily armed pro-Iran movement to be a terrorist group.
In an interview with Saudi-owned AlHadath television on Friday, US Ambassador Dorothy Shea said Hezbollah’s behavior was preventing Lebanon from adequately dealing with a deep economic crisis.
A Shiite judge in the southern city of Tire ruled Saturday that Shea’s comments had incited sectarian strife, and banned broadcasting interviews with her for a year. The state-owned National News Agency (NAA) said that media violating the ban will be fined $ 200,000.
But the government has repudiated the court ruling, while criticizing Shea for the comments that prompted it.
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad tweeted that while she understood the judge’s concerns about diplomats meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs, “no one had the right to prevent the media from covering the news or to curb the news. press freedoms. ”
A Lebanese government official and a western diplomatic source said Shea had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday. No further details were given.
In one of several media appearances on Sunday, Shea told MTV station that a senior government official had assured him that the court did not have the authority to order the ban, and that the government would take steps to reverse it.
He described the ruling as a “really pathetic” attempt to silence the media, and said the government should focus more on implementing economic reforms.
“I would suggest that we all try to leave this chapter behind,” he said.
Reports by Laila Bassam and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Tom Perry and Peter Graff