Friday, November 23, 2012

Free Pierre

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

Is Lebanon a police state? The question isn’t as absurd as it might initially seem. For while the country’s liberal and democratic reputation is largely deserved – and it is plainly worlds away from the carnivorous regimes of its neighbors – every now and then the authorities conduct themselves in ways more reminiscent of Pyongyang than Paris.

The assault of artist and activist Pierre Hashash on Wednesday, in which he was allegedly apprehended by plain-clothed army intelligence and beaten with rifles on his head in broad daylight in Batroun, is but the latest example. According to eyewitnesses, Hashash was outside a Dunkin Donuts café when four men approached him. “You know who we are? We’re going to show you who we are”, was all they said before the violence began. His sister told NOW Arabic that he is currently in the Qobbeh prison in Tripoli, where he is being denied medical care.

It remains unclear why exactly he was “arrested”, if the above actions can be so described. One version has it that he insulted army commander General Qahwaji on Facebook, a charge denied by his family. Others note that he received a call from someone purporting to be the military police ten days before the assault, summoning him to their office, after which he posted the following to Facebook: “Dear security institutions’ officials, [just] let me and people like me be. He who wants something from me [must] legally and officially inform me through the police. Enough. Maybe the anonymous is really anonymous and intends to make my fate anonymous as well” (Original Arabic transcript viewable here ). It’s also possible that he had already displeased the Establishment with his politically-themed (and, incidentally, excellent) rap songs and quixotic attempts to run for parliament in Batroun and Tripoli.

Needless to say, speculating as to the “reason” for the assault is beside the point. It is flagrantly illegal to use such brutality against serious criminals, let alone innocents. If the authorities wish to earn the respect that they so often demands of their citizens, then Hashash’s immediate release, along with a full, transparent investigation into this misconduct – with justice served to all individuals involved – is a minimum requirement.

For the latest info on the case, follow the #FreePierre hashtag on Twitter and the ‘Support Pierre’ page on Facebook.

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