Individual liberty is guaranteed and protected by law. No one may be arrested, imprisoned, or kept in custody except according to the provisions of the law. No offense may be established or penalty imposed except by law.
The freedom to express one’s opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.
Five questions are important to be answered to in order to understand the censorship system in Lebanon.
1. Who puts the Limits?
Whether it is an artistic and/or a cultural work, according to certain laws (some of which date as far back as the French Mandate), General Security has been entrusted with the task of licensing, monitoring and censoring creative works.
The institutions that limit your creative work are:
- The General Security
- The Movie Censorship Commission
- The Ministry of Information
- The National Audiovisual Media Council
- The Council of Ministries
- The Ministry of Interior
This is the list of “Official entities”. There is another list of “Unofficial Entities” who also interfer to monitor and approve/disapprove your work.
The Unofficial Entities who limit your creative work are:
- The Political Parties
- The Catholic Information Center
- Foreign Embassies
- Dar Al Fatwa
And we must not forget the cybercrime bureau. A Facebook post, a simple Tweet, a short Video uploaded on YouTube, is monitored and censored.
2. What is Limited?
A. The Press
1. Local Press:
Press may be the most protected form of freedom of expression in Lebanon and the Lebanese press has been considered the most liberal and progressive in the region. Censorship on the press cannot be practiced unless triggered by a law suit.
2. International Imported Press:
The international press is subject to primary control by the General Security, who decides whether or not to authorize their distribution.
Freedom of the Audiovisual Media is subject to different forms of censorship controls and is under the law number 382 published on 04/11/1994:
- Prior censorship is exercised by General Security with regards to certain broadcast media material.
- Prior censorship is applied only to documentary films, series or feature films.
- Programs that are based on live broadcast such as news broadcasts, and the reports and interviews included in such broadcasts are exempt from prior censorship, as are political talk shows, entertainment programs or programs of social nature that are filmed live in the studio.
- Administrative post-censorship is exercised by the Ministry of Information and the National Council for Audiovisual Media: these controls include the right not to renew a license and the right to halt a corporation’s broadcast.
The General Security does not take the time to listen to each song and music work individually to decide whether or not to completely or partially ban the albums’ songs or censor the album cover but focuses on the song titles, the band name and/or the album cover. It is important to note that imported CDs and DVDs are either confiscated by the General Security or have some tracks crossed off with a black marker. Sometimes part of the CDs or DVDs from a box-set can also be confiscated, and the box-set sold incomplete. Worst of all, what is being banned cannot be traced back as no record gets filed for each material being censored.
Imported CDs and DVDs are either confiscated by the General Security or have some tracks crossed off with a black marker. General Security actually uses black marker to hide the names of composers or singers that are Jewish or if “they believe them to be Israeli”. Sometimes part of the CDs or DVDs from a box-set can also be confiscated, and the box-set sold incomplete. Worst of all, what is being banned cannot be traced back as no record gets filed for each material being censored.
a- Filming stage:
According to Law n.234, producers must obtain a filming permit from General Security before shooting local movies; the aforementioned filming permit is required to obtain any form of financial assistance from the Ministry of Culture for producing films as well as to obtain a screening permit for the film upon completion. General Security may censor scenes or sentences by crossing them out on the said film’s script and by getting the director to sign on the changes as proof of approval. Scenes related to or that feature members of the army must be authorized by the army Chief Commander. After getting authorization from General Security and the army, the producer must receive an approval from the
municipality. The municipality’s approval is needed following the army and General Security’s approval. It must be noted that the process of obtaining prior censorship has been granted to the Publications Department of the General Security with no legal basis. As a matter of fact, the only legal text regulating this form of prior-censorship can be found in a 1934 decree in which the High Commissioner vests power to this specific post and would become void with the cancellation of the post itself.
b- Screening Stage:
Once filming is completed and has undergone prior censorship, the film goes through another censorship process. The law of 27 November 1947 states that movies cannot be distributed nor shown to the public without authorization from the Directorate of General Security. This rule applies to the showing of foreign and local movies in cinemas. Should General Security find that the film or part of the film’s screening be prevented, the film will be shown to the Censorship Commission – made up of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the General Security, and the Ministry of Culture – who will file a report. However, the final decision for any film’s screening is officially issued by the Ministry of Interior. Films imported from abroad are initially sent to the General Security in a sealed package; once custom duties are remitted; the films obtain an import permit. Any films that are rejected by General Security are returned to the Customs Department in a sealed envelope along with a release form.
General Security exercises censorship on the import and distribution of DVDs of films and television series based on provisions stipulated by article 9 of Legal Decree No. 2873. Concerning the import and distribution of films, the General Security controls these movies. Nonetheless, there is no written terms depicting the reasons for which certain movies are not to be authorized. The DVD’s are sometimes fully banned, or partly in the case of Box sets.
Under the Decree No. 2 published on January 1st, 1977 any theatrical presentation should be authorized by the General Security. The mentioned decree was decided in times of war under exceptional circumstances, and mentioned no specific criteria for censorship.
F. Books (Non-Periodical Publications)
Even though the 1962 Law did not place any restrictions on the freedom to publish with regard to non-periodical publications, a decree issued on August 5, 1967, requires that flyers, printed declarations, printed communications material, and the like, obtain a (prior) publishing permit from General Security. What is important to note with regard to the 1967 provisions – which were issued in the context of the 1967 War and defeat – is that these provisions granted General Security extensive discretionary powers in accepting or rejecting a prior publishing permit application independent of any specific criteria, legal guidelines or regulations. These provisions also stipulated that if a decision for a publishing permit is not issued within one week from the date the application was submitted, the publishing permit was to be considered rejected. It is important to note that based on several writers experiences, books that were locally produced do not need a permit from the authorities, only imported books need this permission.
Slander and libel crimes may be committed online. In this case, they shall be considered as IT crimes which can be investigated by the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau. Today, Internet is one of the means of publication through which slander and libel crimes may be committed, (according to the Lebanese Courts) . This means that you can be held accountable for each and every word you publish and write on social media or on the Internet in general, should said word constitute a slander or libel according to the Lebanese Law.
Slander, and libel may be committed in presence, in writing, in absentia or through publications. All these forms may be committed online, through electronic, audio or video correspondences. So that means you are responsible for what you write on:
- Facebook (A status or a share or even a comment)
- Twitter (Tweets or a comment)
- Blogs (A share or even a comment)
- Websites News (A status or a share or even a comment)
What is the action taken by the Cybercrimes and the protection of the intellectual Property Rights Bureau*?
A judicial complaint filed by a harmed Plaintiff.
- The Public Prosecution shall refer the complaint to the Bureau or any other Judicial Police
- The Bureau takes the necessary actions and calls the Defendant (Investigation)
- After investigations, the file shall be referred to the Public Prosecution to take a decision on whether to follow-up the case or reject it.
* The Bureau does not take any actions unless a complaint is filed directly by the aggrieved people. And excepted where the crime is committed against the President of the State in which case public interest litigation is introduced without a complaint by the aggrieved person.
1. Local Press:
Limitations of these publications exists in the Press Law. But the law currently in force in Lebanon dates back to 1962, followed-up by some decrees.
The decree number 104 dated June 30, 1977, specifically cites the “ban on publishing”.
An example of these limitations: Those responsible for publishing articles that might disrupt civil peace,
are subject to a prison sentence of 6 to 18 months and a fine. Generally, the censorship targets what is of sexual character or political and
religious subjects. ” On January 15, the Court of Appeal in Beirut issued a ruling that condemned and fined Mohammed Nazzal, a journalist at Al-Akhbar,
and Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, in a lawsuit filed by Judge Randa Yaqthan against an article written by Nazzal in which
he accused Yaqthan of releasing two drug dealers. Even though Yaqthan was found guilty, Nazzal was still held liable for defamation.”
(Al-Akhbar, March 15, 2014)
2. International Imported Press:
Several international newspapers and magazines were prohibited in Lebanon for containing religious and sexual materials.
B. Audio-Visual Media: Television and Radio
What is mainly censored from Audio-Visual media are:
Ironically, the same political content can be allowed in a political show, yet be banned if it’s on a documentary even if it’s on the same TV channel (Main example: Stories related to the Lebanese Civil War) Post-censorship is exercised by the courts in cases where broadcasts have been charged with certain violations.
The contradiction of censorship:
Censorship in Lebanon can also be illogical, inconsistent, and sometimes does not really make any sense. To prove that, March transcribed a few episodes of the satirical TV show ChiNN, that dealt mainly with politics, and made them into theater scripts that it submitted to censorship. Although these scripts were exacts copies of the show seen on TV and youtube by viewers all over Lebanon, the scripts did not pass the censorship test of General Security and were banned from being
performed as theatrical plays.
Music is censored if it contained any attacks on religion, political statements and “promoting Satanism.” Note that in the late 1990s, The General Security Directorate banned the majority of rock and roll music. Rock musicians and metal fans were accused of being satanists and were arrested on several occasions. Also note that concerning local music, local artists and producers are lucky regarding this issue: Most of the time, only post censorship is practiced. Meaning measures are taken after the album is sold on the market, should it upset certain sensitivities.
1. Local Movies
The article 4 of the law stipulates that the censors follow the following criteria:
– The respect of public order, morals and good ethics
– The respect of the public sensitivities, avoiding sectarianism and
– The protection of public authority
– To right all issues not aligned with Lebanon’s interest
2. International Movies
International Movies are censored because of:
– Judaism/Israeli content
In Lebanon, we are used to solving our problems by giving up on the issue itself. We never have the urge to continue our right for something that is rightfully ours; we just take the easy way out and only think of our short-term benefits. And this is where self-censorship comes in… So sometimes, instead of waiting for the government to censor us, we do a good job ourselves at preemptively censoring our work or words…
After years and years of censorship and attempts at intimidation, we are weary of authorities, public reactions and of actually having to go through that process and therefore play the role of the Censorship Bureau. This occurrence is seen for example with movie distributors who have in recent years, censored many of the movies before even submitting them to the Censorship Bureau at General Security. For example, a simple title that mentions the word “God” is censored and was decided to be renamed “Kings of Egypt” by movie distributors instead of “Gods of Egypt” to avoid any “Outrage” from religious figures.
“Subduing of critics” – Legal Subjection: A warrant of subjugation
Let’s say you were free enough to write a play, to make a film, or to create a song, without practicing self-censorship. And you also fought the censorship system. Maybe you won, maybe you didn’t. But did you know that you can be put on a watch list and be issued a “subjugation warrant” by the General Security?
A “subjugation warrant” is a discretionary administrative penalty issued by the General Security against anyone it considers to be responsible for a “provocative” action or statement. This penalty was implemented during the Syrian occupation days, and is still in practice now despite a decision by the Ministry of Interior and Council of Ministers to revoke all these warrants and to stop the practice. Today we can account for about 80.000 warrants. It is also important to note that these sanctions are not made public, meaning you are never informed of them, which constitutes a serious breach of your rights, depriving you of your right to challenge them. So, let’s say you got a good job offer in Qatar, and you need to be there in the upcoming 2-3 days. You ask for a fast renewal of your passport, and when you go to collect it from the General Security, they will reply that it needs more time, because you are “under investigation”. They don’t tell you why, they don’t tell you what’s wrong or how long it will take, you just have to wait, although “Fast renewal” means you paid more money so you can receive the new passport the same day. You could also wait for ages before you find out that you have a subjugation warrant. This means you lost both the job offer and your airplane ticket, and your paperwork in Lebanon will now take a lot of time until they’re done with your punishment for producing creative works that defied censorship.
Example of people who received subjugation warrants:
– MARCH members
– Lucien Bourjeily (Writer/director)
– Christine Tohme (Curator, founding director of Ashkal Alwan)
There are no criteria, standards or guidelines for censoring theatrical works or performances, thus allowing the General Security more freedom to exercise censorship. Therefore, prior to staging a theatrical performance one must first submit an application along with three copies of the intended play’s script to General Security’s department of publication, who also exercises prior censorship control over film screenplays and issues filming permits. If improvised scenes added to the approved screenplay are deemed by General Security a violation to the initial terms of prior permits, removing or and/or re-editing scenes may be required for final clearance.
F. Books (Non-Periodical Publications)
The main reasons for banning imported books are religion and politics. “The Lebanese Connection” uncovers for the first time the story of how Lebanon became one of the world’s leading suppliers of illicit
drugs, how its economy and political system were corrupted by drug profits, and how the drug trade contributed to the country’s greatest catastrophe, its fifteen-year civil war from 1975 to 1990.
4. Where are “Limits” practiced?
The limits are practiced at the General Security’s bureau or cybercrime bureau in case of an online action.
5. Why are you being Limited?
The Lebanese constitution preamble: “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.” According to the Lebanese laws today, these are the reason why your work can be censored if it is:
- Showing disrespect to any religion officially acknowledged by the state
- Insulting the dignity of the head of state
- Disturbing the public peace
- Disrespecting public order, morals and good ethics
- Inciting sectarianism
- Offending the sensitivities of the public
- Spreading propaganda that is against the interest of Lebanon
- Exposing the states to danger
- Abolish the prior censorship practice on movies, publications and theater.
- Adopt the rating system by setting up a specific Commission formed of lawyers, artists, academics who will classify the art works and/or publications.
- Seek to identify the same legal frameworks for political and nonpolitical publications.
- Replace the prior authorization principle by a pre-notification one.
- Abolish of prior censorship on imported publications made by the General Security and the Ministry of Information.
- Abolish of penalty of imprisonment related to publication crimes.
- Interpret accurately crime related terminology in order to limit the expansion in the application.
- Establish a special body or entity responsible for the categorization of television shows according to age.
Sources and references:
– Decision No. 243, issued on October 18, 1934: Prohibiting the filming of cinematic scenes and the export of films without prior licensing from the Directorate General of General Security.
– Law issued on November 27, 1947: Subjecting all cinematic tapes to censorship by the Directorate General of General Security.
– Decree No. 15666, issued on February 28, 1964: Establishing the National Council for Cinema.
– Legislative Decree No. 2, issued on January 1, 1977: Subjecting theatrical works to prior censorship by the Directorate General of General Security.
– Publications Law, issued on September 2, 1948.
– Legislative Decree, issued on April 13, 1953: Concerning publications.
– Law (No. X), issued on September 14, 1962: Concerning publications.
– Law No. 382, issued on April 11, 1994: Regulating television and radio broadcasting.
– Decree No. 7997, issued on February 29, 1996: Stipulating terms of reference (regulations) for audiovisual media.
– Censorship in Lebanon: law and practice A Collaborative Study by Nizar Saghieh, Rana Saghieh and Nayla Geagea.
– Report on Censorship in Lebanon by NDH International, March 2003.
– MARCH research and reports.