BEIRUT: The justice’s minister’s call to prosecute individuals who burned the ISIS flag in Beirut has come under heavy fire Saturday with one MP offering to be the perpetrators' lawyer should the case make it to court.
A picture of three boys burning ISIS and Nusra Front flags printed on two large billboards circulated on social media Saturday morning. The incident took place in the middle of the bustling Sassine Square in Ashrafieh.
The young men burnt the flags in retaliation to the alleged beheading of a Lebanese soldier by ISIS. Ali al-Sayyed is among 29 soldiers and police officers who were captured by Nusra Front and ISIS during the five-day Aug. 2 clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants from Syria in a border region.
A video also surfaced online showing the beheading of Al-Sayyed, but the Army has said it was still investigating the validity of the picture posted earlier this week by a man claiming to be an ISIS member.
In a move highly critical of the justice minister's stance, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the FPM, announced that he would represent the young men in court once the prosecutor took action.
Earlier Saturday, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi released a statement that said: “This morning, some people burnt the flag of ISIS in Sassine Square and their symbol reads: ‘No God but Allah and Mohammad the prophet of Allah,’ which is the cornerstone of Islam.”
“This symbol has nothing to do with ISIS and its terrorist approach.”
Rifi asked the state prosecutor Samir Hammoud to pursue and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law given that burning the flag desecrated religious symbols and could, he argued, incite sectarian strife – both punishable under Lebanese law.
Hammoud has since referred the case to the Criminal Investigation Department to launch an investigation into the Ashrafieh incident.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil called on Christian youth to refrain from equating ISIS to Islam, saying the religion had nothing to do with the radical group.
Gebran, however, implicitly criticized Rifi’s decision.
"As for those who burnt the flag, it would have been sufficient if we simply directed their attention to it,” he said in a statement.
Change and Reform bloc MP Nabil Nicolas also weighed in, saying that Rifi's move encouraged "takfiri movements because the boys only burned the ISIS flag without the intention of insulting Islam."