(Beirut) - The Lebanese government should investigate the seizure of a human rights lawyer's passport by General Security, a group of 16 Lebanese and international human rights organizations said today.
General Security withheld the British passport for the lawyer, Nizar Saghieh, a dual British and Lebanese citizen, on March 2, 2010, without providing any justification. The passport was returned on March 4, following the direct intervention of Interior Minister Ziad Baroud. Saghieh had recently represented four Iraqi refugees in their lawsuits against the Lebanese state for illegal detention by General Security, resulting in court orders for their immediate release.
"We are concerned that General Security singled out Nizar Saghieh for harassment because of his role in defending Iraqi refugees," the organizations said. "The government should investigate the reasons for General Security's behavior and ensure that no human rights activist is harassed for his or her activities."
The passport was withheld after a travel agency sent General Security 13 passports of government representatives and civil society activists, including Saghieh's, for approval to send them to Amman, Jordan, to seek visas for travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The passports had to be sent to Jordan because there is no Bosnian embassy in Lebanon. The trip's purpose was to study Bosnia's experience in dealing with enforced disappearances and mass graves.
When the travel agency went to retrieve the passports, General Security returned the others but said, without providing any reason that they intended to summon Saghieh to come in person to retrieve his. The trip for the entire group has been postponed as a result. General Security is the security institution in charge of immigration and passport formalities in Lebanon.
While the organizations said they were relieved that the passport was returned following the minister's intervention, they expressed concern that General Security had withheld the passport to intimidate Saghieh.
The organizations also called on Lebanon to respect human rights lawyers and to abide by the principles enunciated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, particularly Article 12. That article calls on governments to "take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise" of their rights as a human rights defender.
The organizations also urged the bar associations of Beirut and Northern Lebanon to ensure that their members are not harassed for their work as lawyers.
Saghieh has worked on a number of human rights issues, including arbitrary detention of refugees, access to information for the families of persons forcibly disappeared during Lebanon's civil war, and censorship. Most recently, he successfully represented the four Iraqi refugees in separate lawsuits against the state, seeking their immediate release from detention at the General Security jail after they had finished serving sentences. General Security has released only one of the four despite the court decisions calling for their immediate release.
Saghieh's activism has caused him trouble with General Security in the past. In 2003, General Security issued an order prohibiting him from entering General Security buildings or conducting any "formality" in it. The order remains in place even though there is no basis under Lebanese law for such an order. The order was issued after Saghieh had acted as legal counsel for Frontiers Center, a non-governmental organization acting mainly on behalf of refugees, in the context of the harassment of the center's director, Samira Trad.
Lebanon is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states in article 12 that "Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own." The Covenant prohibits states from imposing restrictions on this right "except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant."
The organizations are:
- The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)
- Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
- Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l'Homme
- Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture (ACAT-France)
- Restart Center for rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture (Restart)
- The Committee for the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon (CFKDL)
- Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
- Centre Libanais pour les Droits de l'Homme (CLDH)
- Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE)
- The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture)
- UMAM Documentation and Research (UMAM D&R)
- Frontiers Ruwad Association
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PINACLE)
- ALEF - Act for Human Rights