Lebanese musician Zeid Hamdan was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly defaming President Michel Suleiman in a song. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to two years.
Most Arab countries have laws against insulting – or, in some cases, merely criticising – the head of state. In Egypt, for example, an amateur poet was jailed two years ago for writing verses which were said to have insulted President Mubarak but such cases have generally been rare in Lebanon. In the region's new political climate Hamdan's arrest is being widely viewed as an attack on freedom of speech, and a worrying sign.
Last year, three people were detained in Lebanon for using allegedly slandering the president on Facebook, AFP says, though they were released without charge after 11 days.
According to AFP, Lebanese law requires the general prosecutor to take action over any case of defamation against the president or any "sister state" regardless of whether anyone complains.
Writing in the Daily Star, Emma Gatten says the case was instigated by interior minister Marwan Charbel "after Lebanon's General Security viewed the video of the song ... and determined that it caused offence to the president".
Hamdan was reported to have been released on Wednesday evening and it is unclear if the case will be pursued through the courts.
The song itself (see video above), which has been on YouTube for about 18 months, complains about militias, warlords and corruption but does not appear to insult President Suleiman. It thanks him for his efforts but ends by telling him to "go home".
in an interview last year, Handan said:
"I'm not attacking General Sleiman in particular, on the contrary, at the time I wrote the song, he represented real political neutrality. The only sarcastic thing I suggested in my song is about his effective role, a way of saying 'thank you, you did the job, you can go home now'. He was praised by all when they needed him and today he is attacked, like in the song."
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 July 2011.