Beirut (AFP) – A Lebanese judge on Saturday banned media from reporting remarks by the US ambassador after she spoke about the powerful Hezbollah movement, a ruling criticised as non-binding and unenforceable.
During an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath aired on Friday, Dorothy Shea said the United States has “grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organisation”.
“It has syphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people,” she said.
“It has obstructed some of the economic reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs,” she added.
The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation but the group and its allies command a majority in parliament and the cabinet.
On Saturday, a judge in south Lebanon issued an order banning local and foreign media working in the country from airing or publishing locally comments by the US ambassador for a year.
“The US ambassador discussed in her interview a Lebanese party represented in parliament and cabinet and that enjoys a wide popular base,” the order said, referring to Hezbollah.
“The US ambassador has no right to talk about this party,” the order added, accusing her of promoting internal sedition and strife.
The judge acknowledged that international law gives diplomats immunity but said media could be punished for violating his order.
The US embassy in Lebanon responded on Twitter, saying “we believe very much in freedom of expression and the important role a free media plays in the United States and Lebanon.”
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad dismissed the judge’s order, saying “no one has the right to ban the media from covering the news.”
Any issue pertaining to the media should pass through the information ministry and official judicial channels, she added.
Local broadcaster LBC said it would not abide by the ruling, calling it a “non-binding and unenforceable” decision that violates freedom of press.
It said it would challenge the ruling in court.
Lebanon’s economic crisis has led to a collapse of the local currency and purchasing power, plunging whole segments of society into poverty.
Earlier this year, Lebanon defaulted on its debt. The Lebanese pound remains pegged to the dollar, but its value has plunged on the black market.
The government is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund over a potential bail out.