Geneva - The Beirut Bar Association’s restrictions on members’ freedom of opinion, expression, publication, and media appearances are deeply concerning, said Euro-Med Monitor in a statement.
Under the pretext of controlling “chaos”, the Beirut Bar Association amended the Lawyers’ Code of Ethics last month, requiring its members to obtain approval from the Association’s head before participating in any seminar or interview of a legal nature, rather than simply informing him of their participation. The unjustified amendment directly contradicts the constitutional rights guaranteed to individuals and undermines lawyers’ chief moral duties, which are to publicly defend the rights of victims and oppressed people, raise human rights awareness, and inform the public of potentially important legal details.
“The restrictions imposed by the Beirut Bar Association’s Council on the freedoms of lawyers, who serve as the first line of defence for individuals and groups, set a dangerous precedent,” said Mohammad Moghabat, Euro-Med Monitor’s regional office director in Lebanon. “Such restrictions prevent lawyers from performing their primary role in protecting the interests of individuals, groups, and society as a whole.
“The measures taken by the Council, and those that are expected to be taken, against lawyers who exercise their right to express themselves and play a role in protecting society’s interests, are strikingly similar to those that characterise repressive regimes and their various tools,” added Moghabat. “It is completely unacceptable that the rights and freedoms of Beirut Bar Association members are being jeopardised in this way.”
Several Lebanese lawyers have petitioned the country’s judiciary to overturn the Association’s decision. The Beirut Court of Appeal held a public hearing on 14 April in the case of appealing the union’s decision, and a decision is expected on 4 May. Article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as does Lebanon’s international obligations, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Euro-Med Monitor urges the Lebanese parliament to amend the law governing the legal profession, in order to preserve Lebanon’s constitution and international obligations. The Beirut Bar Association’s Council must unconditionally reverse all decisions and practices that may lead to the restriction of lawyers’ rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and of the Association’s natural role in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all members of society, including its members.