Lebanon News

Army briefly detains activist over ‘offensive’ cartoon

File- Lebanese soldiers patrol the northern city of File photo of Lebanese troops patrolling a street in Tripoli, north Lebanon. The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Army Intelligence has briefly detained an activist in the northern city of Tripoli for promoting a cartoon apparently criticizing Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi, the Samir Kassir Eyes (SKeyes) Center for Media and Cultural Freedom reported Thursday.

Bilal Hussein, an engineer and activist from Tripoli, was detained for six hours Tuesday in Tripoli.

On Dec. 4, 2013, Hussein shared a cartoon published on the local website “Beirut Observer” on his Facebook page. Below the image, Hussein wrote: “Kahwagi is making his way to Baabda through Tripoli, thank you Samer Fatfat.”

Fatfat is the cartoonist who signed the caricature showing a man on a motorcycle, supposedly representing Kahwagi, asking another man seemingly depicting caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati: “What is the way to Baabda?" “Through Tripoli,” Mikati responds.

The cartoon gives the impression that Kahwagi wants to become Lebanon’s next president at the expense of raging battles in Tripoli.

Tripoli has been caught in on and off violence between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen for nearly three years over the Syrian crisis. Gunmen in the city have also repeatedly clashed with the military in Lebanon's second largest city.

Hussein told the media watchdog he was detained outside his office at around 4:00 p.m. Tuesday and was taken by the military to an Army center in the Tripoli neighborhood of Qibbeh.

“When we arrived there, they took me to the interrogation room where they tied my hands, blindfolded me and kept me standing,” he said.

“I asked why I am here and the answers I got were insults; they intimidated me and every now and then some soldiers would come in and talk about what they plan to do with me like hanging me [from the ceiling] and similar stuff,” Hussein explained.

“They even brought another detainee to the room and started beating him up and torturing him while he was begging for some water because they haven’t given him anything to eat or drink since last night.”

According to Hussein, almost four hours after he was detained, the Army members opened his laptop and accused him of drawing the cartoon offending the Army commander.

“I showed them the signature of Samer Fatfat on the cartoon but then they accused me of collaborating with armed groups,” he said.

Hussein said that a “polite and gentle” Army officer came in later, apologized to him and ordered his release.

He added that he even received a phone call from the head of the Army intelligence in the north who asked the soldiers to apologize to him.

“I am an engineer and an activist in the civil society and I have nothing to do with armed groups but I was treated as if I was,” he said.

The media watchdog organization SKeyes was established in 2007 in honor of journalist Samir Kassir, who was assassinated in 2005.





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