BEIRUT: Activists Ali Fakhry and Khodr Salami were released late Saturday evening after spending almost 20 hours in custody by authorities in Beirut for spray painting on public property.
The pair, released from a police station in Verdun at around 8.40 p.m., were greeted by a crowd of some 60 friends and activists who had stood outside chanting and holding banners calling for their release.
"We were picked up for writing some stencils about the Syrian revolution,” Fakhry told The Daily Star outside the Verdun police station, one of several security venues the two were held at.
“We wrote ‘The revolution will continue’ and the Lebanese Army stopped us and sent us to the Military Police where they put us in a dirty cell and gave us just the one phone call,” he said.
The run-up to Fakhry and Salami’s release saw several sit-ins in front of police stations where the two were being held.
Earlier in the day, around 30 supporters of Fakhry and Salami protested outside the Damascus Road police station in Sodeco, where the two were held for a brief period of time.
“Down with the military dictatorship,” chanted protesters, while another protester spray painted “128 MPs equal 128 thieves” across the wall of the police station.
The protesters said the incident represented a violation of freedom of expression and speech.
Neamat Badereldinne, who described herself as a leftist activist, said the detention did not make any sense.
“This is irrational and unacceptable. [Retired Brig. Gen] Fayez Karam got out of prison after two years and now activists are in prison,” she said, referring to the recent release of the Free Patriotic Movement official who served 20 months behind bars for contact with Israel.
“Freedom of expression is a red line, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with what was written on the wall,” Badereldinne said.
Journalist Wajih Ajouz, 24, who also took part in the sit-in denounced the detention, describing it as shameful.
“What happened yesterday is a shame. We ask authorities to follow up on cases that concern citizens rather than the army arresting two citizens,” Ajouz said.
Upon his release from the Verdun prison, Fakhry said the “shock factor” of their detention, several sit-ins as well as support from activists, bloggers and lawyers had all played a role in the pair’s release.
"If not for the activists in front of the police station the investigation wouldn't have started until Monday," Fakhry said before friends encouraged him to depart due to health concerns.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati also took note of the detention and announced on Twitter that the two would be released.
"Dear All. I'm pleased to inform you that both activists @Alifakh [Fakhry] & @jou3an (Salami) are now being released. Chapter closed! N.M.,” Mikati said during a live Twitter session.
Farah Salka, an activist and friend of the detained duo who greeted the pair upon their release, said she felt Mikati's involvement was a political ploy.
"Mikati made use [of the issue] to gain popularity," she said.
"Regardless if he is or not [interested] they shouldn't have been arrested in the first place," she added.