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Gag order?- Now Lebanon

Gag order?
Matt Nash, September 21, 2011

The Beirut Bar Association recently initiated disciplinary action against two lawyers for criticizing a draft association rule that would limit attorneys’ ability to speak to the media, prompting outcries from the lawyers and human rights groups.

In July, Carlos Daoud wrote an article slamming the draft rule as an affront to freedom of speech, contending it violated human rights conventions and ran contrary to laws in Europe and the US. Fellow Beirut attorney Nizar Saghieh printed the piece in a new journal he is publishing.

Daoud told NOW Lebanon that around 10 days ago the Bar told both him and Saghieh they were under internal investigation and would have to answer questions about the article to determine whether or not the Bar will take disciplinary action against them.

Beirut Bar Association President Amal Haddad, the only person authorized to speak on the organization’s behalf, refused to comment. She said the rule is still only a proposal under study by the Bar’s board, and that the investigation of Daoud and Saghieh is nascent, therefore it is premature to speak with the press about these issues.

Daoud said he did not think the rule’s authors intended to limit lawyers’ freedom of speech, but he insisted that would be the consequence if it passes.

“We are now 10,000 lawyers in Lebanon. If each lawyer wants to talk to the media, it could be publicity for him or marketing for him. If an unknown lawyer each week talks to the media, he could become a star in Lebanon and start getting many more clients. This is the reason [for the proposed rule],” Daoud said.

Saghieh, a well-known human rights lawyer, said that if the rule passed, it would severely impact his work. He often represents refugees and asylum seekers detained in Lebanon for illegal entry or for overstaying their visas, which he and many other human rights groups consider violations of Lebanon’s constitution.

Several of his clients have been held in detention both after their sentences expired and, in some cases, after judges specifically ordered their immediate release. Last year General Security confiscated Saghieh’s passport and held it for two days. He and 16 human rights groups claimed the move was an attempt at intimidation, which General Security denied.

“When I was pursuing cases against General Security, do you expect me to stay silent while they seize my passport or keep refugees detained?” he said.

“We consider that if you’re a lawyer defending a social cause, you’re compelled to go to the media. We’re defending people who are really marginalized. We need the media and the public to support our cases,” he added.

Daoud and Saghieh condemned the Bar for initiating disciplinary action against them, with Saghieh going as far as calling it “authoritarian.” The men said Daoud is being pursued for writing the critique and Saghieh for publishing it.

The investigation is still in its first phase, and Daoud said they will have to undergo questioning on October 11. After questioning, the Bar’s disciplinary board will decide whether to pursue further action. They could face penalties ranging from a formal warning to being permanently disbarred.

This week the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the International Federation of Human Rights, the World Organization against Torture and the Frontiers Ruwad Association, a local group that provides legal services to refugees and asylum seekers, issued statements denouncing the Bar.

Daoud stressed that he and Saghieh are most concerned about the impact the proposed rule, if passed, would have on lawyers’ rights of expression.

“This isn’t about Carlos Daoud and Nizar Saghieh. This is about freedom of speech, the ability to write an article or be able to speak. No one should tell anyone they don’t have that right,” Daoud said.

To read more: http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=313769#ixzz1YlYAuzt8
Only 25% of a given NOW Lebanon article can be republished. For information on republishing rights from NOW Lebanon: http://www.nowlebanon.com/Sub.aspx?ID=125478

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