Spinneys' Government Tentacles Silence Critics
A civil society activist was detained and interrogated in Lebanon for several hours Wednesday over a blog post about labor rights violations at a major supermarket chain.
Abir Ghattas had been at the forefront of a campaign to secure rights for workers at retail giant Spinneys-Lebanon, which operates seven large supermarkets in the country.
The offending blog post contained a list of transgressions by Michael Wright, former CEO of Spinneys, two days after he was sacked by the chain's principle investor Al-Abraaj. It was dated 10 January 2013.
The incident prompted a flurry of response from scores of Arab activists on Facebook, who reposted a screenshot of the post with the caption: "I take responsibility for this article." It was an apparent attempt to diffuse blame from Ghattas and preserve the campaign the post represented.
Lebanese police summoned Ghattas to a police station near Beirut's downtown area and demanded that she take down the post, or risk imprisonment for five days on slander charges. She was later told that Spinneys had pressed charges against her.
She complied and was made to sign an oath to abstain from criticizing Spinneys in any form.
Spinneys fired two workers last summer for exposing workers rights issues within the company, including management’s insistence on following its own interpretation of the wages correction bill of 2012, in violation of the actual legislation.
It also sought to silence media coverage of the events by threatening to withdraw advertising funds from various outlets. It enlisted the support of major political parties.
Ghattas was a prominent supporter of the workers' campaign against Spinneys and was threatened with dismissal from her company at the time for her activism.
Last October, one of the Spinneys workers union founders, Moukheiber Habshi, was attacked and threatened to have his "bones broken" if he remained in the union.
The Spinneys union applied for registration with the Ministry of Labor at the end of July. Its establishment was considered a victory for labor rights activists against management.
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