The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on Lebanese authorities to withdraw all proceedings against the journalist Rami Aysha after it emerged that last week he received a six month jail sentence in absentia from a Beirut military court on a charge of purchasing firearms.
According to reports, Aysha, a freelance reporter/journalist in Lebanon, was arrested on 30 August 2012 while investigating a story on weapons deportation in Beirut. He was released a month later pending trial. When the trial was finally scheduled for 25 November this year he was working abroad and requested, through his lawyer, that it was postponed until 8 December. But the judge in charge of the case rejected the request, went ahead with the hearing and convicted him absentia.
IFJ's Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), says that Aysha, who is currently outside the country, has learnt that his name has been passed to Lebanon's immigration department and he will be arrested upon his planned return to Beirut this Sunday, 8 December. In reports Aysha says that after his arrest he will be held indefinitely by Lebanese authorities pending a new trial before the military court, but he will still be in detention during the trial which could result in the judgement being confirmed and him being sentenced to prison.
"We call on Lebanese authorities to withdraw all the proceedings against Rami Aysha and to quash his conviction with immediate effect," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "Aysha was carrying a journalistic investigation into arms trafficking, he was not involved in the illicit practice. If the freedom of press in Lebanon is to be maintained, then Lebanese authorities must let Aysha enter the country as a free man, without fear of arrest."
According to media reports, Aysha was abducted on 30 August 2013 while investigating weapons trafficking in Beirut's southern suburbs. He was kidnapped and handed over to Lebanese military police where his mistreatment continued. He was subsequently charged with involvement in importing weapons, the story he was investigating at the time of his kidnapping.
The MEAA has sent a letter to the Lebanese Ambassador to Australia expressing its concerns for Aysha's welfare, and calling for the Ambassador to take the actions required to protect his safety.
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 17
The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries