Update 12/8/2021: On December 8, 2021, General Security released Nada Homsi and dropped the deportation order against her.
(Beirut) – Lebanon’s General Security should immediately release Nada Homsi, a journalist from the US, who was arrested on November 16, 2021, and whose detention is now arbitrary, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. General Security should also promptly, thoroughly, independently, transparently, and effectively investigate the due process violations she faced since her arrest, and bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible.
General Security officers raided Homsi’s apartment on November 16 without a judicial order, where they found a small amount of cannabis, said Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade. Chehade said the officers then called the public prosecutor, who issued an arrest warrant for Homsi and her partner. The officers also confiscated her electronics and other documents. Although the public prosecutor ordered her release on November 25, General Security issued a deportation order for her and continues to detain her arbitrarily.
“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 Human Rights Watch. “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.”
Homsi is a US freelance journalist who has worked with several Arab and international outlets, including most recently, the US-based National Public Radio (NPR).
The reasons for the raid on Homsi’s house remain unknown, but General Security officers told Chehade that the raid was based on security intelligence gathered by their Information Unit. 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. No security or military charges have been filed against Homsi, but she was charged for drug consumption.
General Security officers did not allow Homsi to contact her family or a lawyer for six days after her arrest. They also interrogated her without the presence of a lawyer, in violation of article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. When she insisted on her right to a lawyer, she was told that “these rights do not apply at General Security,” Chehade said. After her interrogation, General Security officers made Homsi sign an interrogation report that she could not read. Under Lebanese law, a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of 96 hours and then must be released if no charges have been filed.
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, and they issued a deportation order for her around two weeks ago, Chehade said.
Under Lebanon’s drug law, a person accused of drug use should be transferred to a specialized “addiction committee” for treatment, and legal procedures against them should be halted if they agree to treatment. On June 25, 2018, the then-Cassation Public Prosecutor Samir Hammoud issued a circular prohibiting pretrial detention for people accused of using drugs. Chehade confirmed to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that Homsi did not overstay her three-month visa.
“General Security should immediately release Homsi and allow her a meaningful opportunity to challenge her deportation in a competent, independent, and credible court,” said Diala Haidar, Lebanon Campaigner at Amnesty International. “They must refrain from detaining any individuals in relation to their immigration status, and promptly identify and hold to account those suspected to be responsible within its structure for violating Homsi’s due process rights.”
On December 1, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the head of General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, urging him to release Homsi and investigate his subordinates’ conduct. The groups have not received a response.
Journalists and activists in Lebanon are increasingly under attack by state and non-state actors. According to the Samir Kassir Eyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes), a media and press freedom watchdog in Beirut, more than 100 media workers have come under assault from non-state actors between the start of the uprising in October 2019 and November 2021.
State agencies have also participated in the crackdown on journalists. Security agencies regularly assault journalists who are doing their jobs, especially during coverage of protests. But instead of holding the abusers accountable, Lebanese authorities have used the broad jurisdiction of the military courts to silence and punish any peaceful dissent or criticism of the security agencies.
On November 26, the military court sentenced journalist Radwan Murtada, a reporter for Al-Akhbar, to 13 months in prison for allegedly insulting the military. On November 24, the military court summoned for trial a comedian and activist, Shaden Fakih, on charges of insulting and harming the reputation of the Internal Security Forces.