"There are three animals currently ruling the country: A crocodile ... a donkey ... and one that hasn’t been revealed yet."
While some may crack at smile at these words, regardless of the country they're referring to, they've landed one Lebanese activist in jail. His crime? Defamation and insulting high ranking officials, according to the judge that issued the arrest warrant.
Ahmad Amhaz was referring to President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri with the words in a post on social media. After receiving a tip about Amhaz' post, he was detained by police on March 21.
Rights groups have come out in support of Amhaz, calling for his immediate release. And Hariri has actually responded via Twitter.
"I agreed with the president to drop our case in the lawsuit against Ahmad Amhaz and we have notified the attorney general."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that authorities interrogated Amhaz without a lawyer present. "The general prosecutor charged him under articles 383, 384, and 386 of Lebanon’s penal code, which criminalize criticism of public officials," the organization said in a statement.
Amhaz faced up to two years in prison if convicted. He remains detained at the time of writing.
Prior to Hariri's announcement, rights groups strongly advocated for the release of Amhaz and criticized such actions by the Lebanese government.
"Lebanese authorities have established a troubling pattern of arresting and charging those who criticize government officials,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should free Ahmad Amhaz and drop the charges against him, and parliament should repeal vague and over broad laws that criminalize free speech," she said
On social media, Lebanese called for his release as well
Because how is posting on Facebook a crime?
What is Ahmad’s crime? Opposing on Facebook? This is #freedom in the #age_of_theft.
Who is afraid of words?
And some pointed out that Lebanon's foreign minister once criticized such arrests
HRW has documented many cases of Lebanese authorities using defamation laws to target activists, lawyers and journalists.
"Arresting someone for criticizing leading politicians serves no legitimate purpose but does undermine free speech in Lebanon,” Fakih said.
“Lebanese authorities should guarantee the right to freedom of expression rather than attempting to quash criticism," she said.
Editors note: This article has been updated with Hariri's tweet and the information that the charges against Amhaz would be dropped.