Nahas challenges prosecution during Spinneys hearing

Charbel Nahas leaves the court room on 8 May 2013 surrounded by his supporters. (Photo: Pat Sy)

By: Yumna Marwan

Published Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The trial of Charbel Nahas vs. Spinneys CEO Michael Wright opened Wednesday, as Nahas defended himself against charges brought against him by the Gulf capital-owned company.

Lebanon’s former Telecommunications and Labor Minister Nahas is being sued on three charges – publishing incorrect information, slander and libel.

Nahas was granted around 15 minutes to defend himself against the three charges brought against him, attendee and supporter Nadine Moawad told Al-Akhbar.

The session began when the prosecution lawyer presented the judge with a print-out of a Facebook event inviting people to attend the session, which he claimed called for a demonstration, several witnesses said.

The judge quickly passed over the argument pointing out that the hearing was in an open court. The statement was the prosecution’s only contribution to Wednesday’s hearing.

British citizen Wright and the lawyer raising the charges against Nahas did not attend the hearing.

“Answering to [charges of] publishing incorrect information, Charbel said that he only shared links to the articles outlining Spinneys’ violations, only in the case that the news is actually faulty,” another attending activist said.

Nahas stated during the trial that he had nothing against Wright personally, and that claims of him using this case for political advantage were false.

“Nahas believes that what’s at stake is not a personal issue because there is none. It is a public concern to denounce violations of rights and freedom of speech. The company was just not up to their responsibilities, it is one which violates our constitutional rights,” the activist said.

Concerning the libel charge of calling the company and Wright “terrorists,” Nahas “showed that Wright did actually terrorize the employees and proceeded to point out the rights that Spinneys and its CEO had violated,” she added.

Nahas also announced the names of all the witnesses he plans on bringing to court in order to testify on these violations.

The next hearing was initially planned for September 26, but at the demand of the defense – which argued that the trial should be sped up to stop the Spinneys’ violations – the judge set the next hearing for June 26.

In an unusual move, the prosecution asked for the date to be postponed to be given more time to gather material.

“Nahas is not doing what the defender usually does, which is to ask for a later hearing and buy time. He wants to bring these issues to light,” the activist said, adding that “you cannot protect the honor of a wrongful person when you have an obligation to point out rights violations.”

Around 50 activists attended the hearing, among them members of Lebanon’s Union Coordination Committee, which took part in a mass strike during February and March.

Spinneys is owned by Abraaj Capital, whose shareholders recently announced their intention to sell all Spinneys stocks.

Nahas has been an active member in the fight against Spinneys’ labor law and worker’s rights violations since the company’s attempts to crush a worker’s union in 2012.

The committee was formed in July 2012 after Spinneys refused to adjust workers’ salaries to comply with the national wage increase passed by the Lebanese government earlier that year.

Spinneys is heavily criticized by rights groups for other abuses as well, such as not paying their baggers, thus forcing them to rely exclusively on tips.

The company attempted to crush the union and its committee and fired several of the union’s elected leaders.

Activists also began receiving letters threatening them with legal action if they continued their campaign calling for the boycott of Spinneys.

Activists have documented on a website the violations committed by Michael Wright and the company.

During his stint as labor minister, Nahas tried to implement a just and systematic law for wage increases. But after his closest allies did not back his plan, he resigned in February 2013.

(Al-Akhbar)

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