Rights groups call for release of US journalist in Lebanon

World

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese authorities should immediately release a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month and continues to be held even after a prosecutor ordered her release, two international human rights groups said Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Nada Homsi was arrested on Nov. 16 by members of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate without a judicial order. The reasons for the raid remain unknown and her detention is now arbitrary, the groups said.

Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade, said that the security force that raided Homsi’s apartment found a small amount of cannabis. Chehade said the officers then called the public prosecutor, who issued an arrest warrant for Homsi and her partner, a Palestinian national. The officers confiscated her electronics and some documents, she told The Associated Press.

General Security members are deployed at border crossings, ports and the country’s only international airport, and the department usually deals with foreigners by issuing visas and residency permits.

“Not only did General Security officers raid Homsi’s apartment without producing a judicial warrant, but they also violated her rights in detention by denying her access to a lawyer,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW.

Chehade said Homsi lives in Beirut’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh and had raised earlier this year a Palestinian flag on her apartment in what angered the area’s mayor who complained to the Lebanese army. Army intelligence members came to her apartment then and asked Homsi to remove the flag which she did, Chehade said.

Homsi wrote a post on her Facebook account detailing the flag incident in May, he lawyer said.

“I believe this was the motive that led to the raid,” Chehade said, adding that they found the cannabis during the raid.

The two rights groups said that although the public prosecutor ordered her release on November 25, General Security issued a deportation order for her and “continues to detain her arbitrarily.”

“General Security’s refusal to release Homsi despite the public prosecution’s order is a blatant abuse of power and a very worrying indication of the security agency’s lack of respect for the rule of law,” said Majzoub said.

On her Twitter account, Homsi writes that she is currently working for National Public Radio, NPR, and usually writes about Syria and Lebanon. Homsi has worked with several Arab and international outlets, including most recently, NPR.

General Security officers continue to insist that Homsi is being detained “for security reasons,” but they have failed to provide any details to Chehade to allow her to prepare a defense, the group said. They added that no security or military charges have been filed against Homsi, but she was charged for consumption of drugs.

Chehade filed a request to release Homsi on November 25, and on the same day, the Beirut Public Prosecutor ordered her release. However, General Security continued to detain Homsi under the pretext that she was working in the country without a proper work permit.

Chehade said General Security officials told her Homsi is under arrest for security reasons without saying what the reasons are.

“The continuation of the arrest is either a stubborn act by General Security or a deliberate policy that they have done with other foreigners before” to deport them, Chehade said.

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