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Lebanon livid from shock of Samaha's release
 
 
 
 
 
 
16-01-2016
 
Lebanon reeled for a second day Friday under the grave repercussions of the Military Tribunal's decision to release former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who was convicted in a terror plot, amid growing calls by March 14 politicians for the abolition of the court altogether.

In addition to evoking nationwide popular and political condemnation, the release of Samaha, freed on a LL150 million ($100,000) bail Thursday, gave ammunition to Sunni preachers to demand the release of hundreds of Islamist prisoners held for years without trials on terror charges as part of a general amnesty.

The Samaha episode, which led to the temporary closure of vital roads in Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli for the second day running, threatened to further heighten sectarian tensions when the country is already suffering from a devastating security spillover of the Syrian war.

The outcry over Samaha's release also overshadowed attempts to revive the paralyzed government and Parliament, as well as a stalled initiative to end the 19-month-long presidential vacuum.

Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon called for speeding up Samaha's retrial as the only way to stem the 'public rage” over the release of the ex-minister who is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

'It was disgust that prompted Prime Minister Tammam Salam to meet today [Friday] with the state prosecutor and led to [street] protests in Ashrafieh by March 14 youths who wanted to express their demand for justice and their discontent with the Military Court's decision,” he said.

Several hundred from the March 14 youth organizations protested outside Samaha's home in the east Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh Friday evening to denounce his release and demand the abrogation of the Military Tribunal.

While most March 14 politicians have underlined the need to abolish the Military Tribunal, speakers at the rally on Sassine Square echoed such a demand. 'The March 14 message is rejection of the Military Tribunal and its decisions,” one speaker said.

Waving flags of the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party and the Progressive Socialist Party, the protesters denounced Samaha as a 'criminal” just meters from his home, which was blocked off by security forces. Reports said Samaha had left the home ahead of the protest.

'What happened yesterday [Thursday] shows that anyone can hold explosives and go to jail for [only] three years,” Jad Demyan, a student spokesperson for the LF, told Al-Jadeed TV station.

Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said he was 'very shocked” by the decision to release Samaha. 'Samaha's release revives the conviction on the need to cancel the Military Tribunal's prerogatives over normal crimes,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. 'The decision came to encourage those who plan crimes and plots to assassinate the Lebanese and incite strife.”

Samaha was arrested in August 2012 and convicted last year by the Military Tribunal on terrorism charges after being recorded by an undercover police informant admitting to smuggling explosives from Syria into Lebanon with the intent of targeting religious and political figures in the north.

He was sentenced to four and half years in prison, but the verdict was annulled after an appeal due to complaints from March 14 politicians that his sentence was too light.

Samaha insisted at a Dec. 17 retrial that he had fallen victim to entrapment by an undercover police informant, although he did not deny meeting with head of the Syrian National Security Bureau Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk and the director of his office in Syria. The Military Court of Cassation unanimously agreed to release Samaha on bail but he was banned from leaving the country or speaking to the media pending a verdict after his retrial.

Earlier Friday, angry youths closed roads in two areas of Beirut and one area in Tripoli for a second consecutive day to protest Samaha's release.

The ISF's Traffic Management Center said roads were blocked near Beirut's Cola roundabout, Qasqas and outside Tripoli Serail with burning tires. Security forces intervened and reopened all the roads.

Apprehensive of the sensitivity of the case, Salam met with State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud to demand a speedy retrial of Samaha.

'I look forward, like all Lebanese, to have a judicial authority that only bows to the power of right and works to serve justice and implements laws to protect the individual and society,” Salam said in a statement after meeting with Hammoud, who is also the deputy head of the Higher Judicial Council.

Salam called on the Higher Judicial Council to 'do what is necessary to speed up the ongoing trial by the Military Court of Cassation in preparation for the issuance of its final verdict in this lawsuit,” the National News Agency reported.

'It's a case linked to the national security of a country that has fought and is still fighting a battle with various forms of terrorism that target its stability, social fabric and democratic principles,” Salam said.

In a quick and alarming response to Samaha's release, hundreds of Islamist inmates held without trials at the Roumieh Prison announced a hunger strike Friday to protest the court's decision, as families of long-serving prisoners renewed demands for their release.

'All Islamist inmates decided to go on hunger strike,” Ziad Alouki, a jailed militia leader from Tripoli, told LBCI in a voice recording. He demanded a general amnesty to release all prisoners.

Alouki was detained along with a large number of militants when security forces began implementing a 2014 security plan in Tripoli to restore law and order to the restive city.

The NNA said Roumieh inmates have locked down the facility's canteen in protest. Security forces reinforcements were rushed to guard the facility and ambulances were put on alert.

Roumieh holds hundreds of Islamist prisoners who have been waiting for trials for years. Many of them were arrested over the 2007 Army battle against Fatah al-Islam in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon. The prisoners have previously protested the slow trial procedures.

Families of Islamist prisoners staged a protest in Tripoli, demanding their release and rejecting granting Samaha's freedom. 'We demand the release of our sons. ... We demand the closure of suspicious courts and the Rayhanieh Prison [in north Lebanon] in which no animal can endure living,” Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim, who is responsible for following up on the case of the Islamist inmates, told dozens of people who gathered after Friday's prayer.

He demanded a general amnesty for Islamist prisoners, drawing cheers from the crowd who responded with chants of 'Allahu Akbar.”

The crowd chanted slogans against the judicial system, warning of an escalation if their demands for the release of Islamist prisoners are not met.
 
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