Hanin Ghaddar/Hezbollah Has Destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew/حنين غدار/حزب الله دمر لبنان الذي كنت اعرفه

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Hezbollah Has Destroyed the Lebanon I Once Knew
حنين غدار/حزب الله دمر لبنان الذي كنت اعرفه
Hanin Ghaddar/The Wall Street Journal/January 29/18

I was sentenced to six months in jail simply for criticizing the Iran-backed terror group’s role.

I recently learned that Lebanon’s Military Tribunal has sentenced me in absentia to six months in prison. After speaking about Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and Syria, I was charged with defaming the Lebanese army. When my lawyer called to notify me of the ruling, I realized the Lebanon I once knew is gone.

In 2014 I spoke at a Washington Institute conference in the U.S. capital. During a panel discussion, I noted that the Lebanese military targets Sunni groups while showing preferences for Shiite groups like Hezbollah. This prompted Hezbollah’s media to launch a campaign of threats against me. Because former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was at the conference, the Hezbollah media claimed it was treason for me, a Lebanese Shiite, to attend.

Lebanese citizenship, in theory, provides a constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. But Lebanon today is no longer about the constitution or citizenship. Hezbollah’s influence matters more. Simply because I am a Lebanese Shiite journalist who is critical of Hezbollah, I have been sentenced to prison.

As the news of my punishment emerged, another journalist was summoned to another court. The list of Lebanese journalists being tried for publishing articles or posting on social media is growing. The message is clear: Lebanese citizens have the right to speak only if they conform to the dictates of the authorities and their rhetoric.

Increasingly authority belongs to Hezbollah, which state institutions, under pressure, recognize as “the resistance, the army and the people.” The group claims power over the state and its citizens, and consecutive governments have acquiesced. Hezbollah persecutes those who criticize this arrangement—especially if they’re Shiite. Being a woman doesn’t help.

Opposition to Israel drives every aspect of Hezbollah’s politics. Protest the organization’s actions in Lebanon or the region, and you’re tagged a servant of Israel, a traitor. Hezbollah uses its “existential war” against the Jewish state as a pretext to clamp down on basic freedoms. In the name of Palestine, Hezbollah is terrorizing everyday Lebanese citizens.

It has isolated the Shiite community and waged wars in the region on behalf of Iran. And it does all of this while appropriating Lebanon’s state institutions.

Lebanon was once a unique, free country in a region brimming with dictatorships and autocrats. Today its state institutions are eradicating those freedoms. Refugees are suffering, the economy is collapsing, and Lebanese are flocking to embassies in Beirut seeking to emigrate. Garbage fills the streets and pollution has reached dangerous levels. All this happens in the name of Palestine.
And if people prefer not to perish for “the resistance,” they can go to prison. For Lebanon’s military court, a journalist expressing a critical opinion endangers the country more than the litany of crimes committed by Hezbollah abroad and at home.

Lebanese people used to say that Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. Today, it seems that Lebanon is a small state within Hezbollah’s state. Thankfully, because I enjoy the safety of a fellowship in Washington, I won’t be going to prison. But there’s something that only those living inside Lebanon can feel: The country is now becoming one large prison.

*Ms. Ghaddar, former managing editor of Lebanon’s Now website, is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.