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Lebanon: Judge who ordered media ban on US envoy resigns

Members of Hezbollah's armed wing stand to attention as hundreds of people gather to watch a televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah on February 22, 2008, in Beirut, Lebanon. [JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP via Getty Images]
Members of Hezbollah's armed wing stand to attention as hundreds of people gather to watch a televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah on February 22, 2008, in Beirut, Lebanon. [JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP via Getty Images]

The Lebanese judge who banned local and foreign journalists working in the country from publishing comments made by the US ambassador resigned yesterday after he was referred to a judicial inspection board over the order, state media reports.

Judge Mohammed Mazeh, who is based in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, a Hezbollah stronghold, issued the ban on Saturday after US Ambassador Dorothy Shea criticised the Iranian-backed militia during an interview with the Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath on Friday.

Shea expressed “grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah” which “is destabilising the country and jeopardizing Lebanon’s economic recovery”. The ambassador also claimed the Iranian-backed group had siphoned dollars intended for government coffers and obstructed desperately needed reforms.

Mazeh reportedly issued the ban after receiving a complaint from a citizen who was concerned the ambassador’s comments were “insulting to the Lebanese people”.

Critics were quick to condemn the judicial ruling, with Lebanon’s Minister of Information Manal Abdul Samad saying, “no one has the right to ban media from carrying news or limit its freedom”.

READ: Lebanon diplomat elected as vice president of UN General Assembly

While Shea herself hit out at the ban calling the attempt to silence her “really pathetic” and claimed attempts to silence journalists and media outlets was more akin to “a country like Iran”.

In the backlash, Judge Mazeh said he would resign if referred to a judicial inspection board, claiming the move would compromise judicial independence.

Shea was later summoned by Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti for a meeting on Monday over her interview with Al-Hadath and told reporters it was time to “turn the page” after the pair spoke.

“We turned the page on this unfortunate distraction, so we can all focus on the real crisis at hand, which is the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon,” Shea said.

The order, which, if it had been adopted by the Ministry of Information, was set to come into effect yesterday, would have banned media outlets from publishing interviews with Shea for a year, with a $200,000 fine and year-long closure for violations.

The ban remains in effect but appears unlikely to be enforced, according to the Associated Press (AP).

READ: Syrian boy raped and tortured in Lebanon

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