Matt Nash, Now Lebanon, August 20, 2010
The Lebanese military released Ismael Sheikh Hasan on Friday afternoon after detaining him on Wednesday apparently because he wrote an article in which he is alleged to have insulted the army and it’s handling of the reconstruction Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Hasan, an urban planner helping rebuild the destroyed camp, was detained when he tried to enter Nahr al-Bared and he now faces trial before the Military Tribunal in Beirut, he told NOW Lebanon.
Hasan said that during the military’s interrogation, he was accused of “attacking the army in the press and calling for people to revolt against it” in a public statement. He did write an article published on May 12 in As-Safir which he described as a satirical, ironic jab at all the stakeholders in the camp’s rebuilding – the UN, the army, Lebanese politicians and the Palestinians themselves.
Hasan said he was released, he thought, because of pressure from the media and various politicians. However, he noted that he still has to go before the Military Tribunal at a still unspecified date.
While noting that he did not have all the details, Nizar Saghieh, the lawyer for Al Akhbar told NOW Lebanon if Hasan is tried before the Military Tribunal over the article, such a move is against Lebanese law.
“First, the Military Tribunal is not competent to hear cases related to press law violations,” Saghieh said. Second, he said, the article was published over three months ago, and the press law says no court cases can be brought against a defendant more than three months after publication.
Finally, Saghieh said, the press law forbids the arrest of anyone who violates it, rather it imposes fines.
Amer Saadiddine, a colleague of Hasan’s, said he fears the arrest and impending trial is aimed at sending a message.
“It’s not only Ismael,” he said. “There are 20 NGOs and different actors, criticizing the army. It’s alarming that they are targeting Ismael. He’s a PhD student, an academic… Targeting him is a clear message to all of us. There can be no critique of Narh al-Bared; no critique of the army.”
Early Friday, while he was still in custody, his fiancé, Leen Jabri, told NOW Lebanon she saw this as a freedom of speech issue.
“What is very clear is that in the law in Lebanon, it’s written that you’re free to talk, but obviously in practice it’s not true,” Jabri said. “When Ismael criticizes the army, he doesn’t do it to harm his country. His aim is to help the country and make it better.”
Hasan helped found the Nahr al-Bared Reconstruction Commission for Civil Action and Studies, a “community-based committee involving Nahr al-Bared grass-roots actors, representatives of camp committees and networks (such as the Popular Committee, Traders Committee, etc,), professional planners, architects and social scientists that are producing studies, plans and strategies for the reconstruction of [the] camp in direct relation with the needs and way of life of its inhabitants,” according to a document written by the group.
As a result of the May-September 2007 war “an estimated 95 percent of all buildings and infrastructure were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair,” and “around 27,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced from Nahr al-Bared camp and its adjacent areas in northern Lebanon,” according to website of the UN Relief and Works Agency, tasked with rebuilding the camp.
Reconstruction has been slower than expected – in fact it did not start until June 2009, according to UNRWA’s website – and should be completed “by mid-2012.”
According to a Palestinian source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution told NOW Lebanon that the army, which was accused in the aftermath of the war of looting and writing anti-Palestinian graffiti on the walls of buildings, still controls access to the camp, and former residents still need special permits to enter.
The source said Palestinians are regularly detained if there are any irregularities – not of their own making – on their permits. Jabri goes further, saying that Palestinians are also detained for other petty reasons.
“A lot of people are detained for nothing. They’re kept with the military intelligence, and the worst thing is they’re Palestinian,” she said. “In the case of Ismael, he has the Lebanese nationality, so [people are speaking out on his behalf], but in the case of Palestinians, they can stay in prison forever and no one will talk.