Lebanese-American freelance journalist Nada Homsi was released from prison in Lebanon on Wednesday, December 8, after spending more than 23 days in illegal arbitrary detention, as per multiple news reports. Her release by Lebanese authorities was preceded by several international human rights groups denouncing her illegal detention as no proper judicial process was followed in her arrest. She was also not allowed access to her lawyers for the first six days of her detention or officially charged with any criminal or other offense. A person cannot be imprisoned without charge for more than 96 hours under Lebanese law.
Homsi was in Lebanon working with US news outlet NPR (National Public Radio) when she was detained on November 16 after members of the Lebanese General Security Directorate raided her home. The security forces reportedly found small amounts of cannabis inside her home and charged her with drug possession. They also claimed that she was being held for “security reasons” without filing any charges in this regard. They confiscated some electronics and documents from Homsi and also arrested her partner, a Palestinian national. While they insisted that the raid was based on intelligence inputs, no charges were filed against Homsi till the end.
Following her release, her lawyer Diala Chehade told news outlets that “Nada is at home and the decision to deport her has been dropped,” adding that the confiscated items were given back to her by the authorities. According to Chehade, Homsi was illegally interrogated while in detention in the absence of a lawyer. The authorities justified denying her a lawyer claiming that “these rights do not apply at General Security.” This was in clear violation of article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Chehade also revealed that while a request for Homsi’s release was filed on November 25 and the public prosecutor in Beirut had ordered her release, General Security continued to detain her illegally claiming that she was working in the country without a proper work permit. A deportation order against her was also ordered.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and several activists and journalists condemned the treatment meted out to Homsi and demanded her immediate and unconditional release. Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement demanding her release said that “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.” Amnesty International’s Lebanese campaigner Diala Haidar made similar appeals in a statement demanding the authorities “immediately release Homsi and allow her a meaningful opportunity to challenge her deportation in a competent, independent, and credible court.
“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,” she added.
Lebanon-based group Samir Kassir Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes) has highlighted that in the period between October 2019 to November 2021, more than 100 journalists and media professionals were targeted by state and non-state actors in a gradually intensifying crackdown on press freedoms in Lebanon.