Lebanon: Behind the summons of lawyer Nizar Saghiyé, a threat to freedom of expression

© Charbel Karam / Unsplash

On Thursday 20 April 2023, the Lebanese lawyer, human rights defender and director of the NGO Legal Agenda Nizar Saghiyé was summoned to appear before the Beirut Bar Council. The summons followed Mr Saghiyé's criticism of an amendment to the Code of Ethics of the Beirut Bar Association which prevents lawyers from speaking publicly in the media without prior authorisation from the President of the Bar Association.

EuroMed Rights, Front Line Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), both within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, express their support for Mr Nizar Saghiyé and strongly condemns this summons. Requiring lawyers to obtain prior authorisation from the President of their Bar Association before making any media statements curtails their freedom of expression.

The modification of the Code of Ethics published by the Beirut Bar Association on 3 March 2023, interferes with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Lebanon in 1972. In addition to the ICCPR, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers makes clear that whilst states bear the primary obligation to protect lawyers, they share this with the bar associations (Principle 25). In addition, Principle 23 states that "Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization. In exercising these rights, lawyers shall always conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession."

Currently, the Lebanese government is debating a new media law behind closed doors and there has been an increase in the number of arrests of journalists. Recently the President of the Lebanese Bar Association recently denounced the "chaos and confusion" allegedly created by the proliferation of websites and social networking platforms. This latest summons is a worrying development in an already troubling trend towards limiting freedom of expression of Nizar Saghiyé, the Bar's lawyers, amongst others.

We, the undersigned human rights organisations,

  • Call upon the Beirut Bar Council cancel the summons of Mr Nizar Saghiyé and his colleagues,
  • Call upon the Beirut Bar Council to revokethe amendment to the Code of Ethics published on 3 March 2023, and ensure it is in line with international standards,
  • Call upon the authorities to make public the legislative debates within the parliamentary commissions, in particular the debates on the draft law on the media.