BEIRUT: Supporters of Lebanese prisoner George Abdallah will hold multiple protests at French cultural institutes across Lebanon Thursday, in an effort to speed up his release.
Although Abdallah was granted parole by a French court last week, his release was delayed after the French Interior Ministry refused to approve the deportation order.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the International Campaign to Free George Abdallah called for all branches of the French Cultural Institute in the country to be closed in protest at the decision.
The campaign called for demonstrations in front of the French cultural institutes in Sidon and Deir al-Qamar at noon Thursday, and four other protests in front of the French institutes of Tyre, Nabatiyeh, Tripoli and Baalbek at 4 p.m. the same day.
According to the statement, the campaign against French interests in Lebanon will only end when Abdallah is set free.
Security sources told The Daily Star that police will be deployed at all French cultural centers to ensure the protests remain peaceful. “Measures have been taken to avoid any violent acts that might harm the country’s image,” the sources said.
Family members and friends of Abdallah demonstrated in his hometown of Qobayat in Akkar Wednesday.
“The people of Qobayat condemn the unjustified decision not to release George Abdallah,” said Nassim Qastoun, head of a local committee that is overseeing the preparations for a ceremony to welcome Abdallah back home.
Qastoun said that Abdallah has become a Lebanese hostage in the hands of the French authorities. “His continued detention is in violation of all principles of human rights,” he added.
During a demonstration in the wake of the French Interior Ministry’s decision earlier this week, supporters of Abdallah gathered in front of the French Embassy in Beirut and called on France not to give into pressure from the United States after reports said that the U.S. asked France to postpone Abdallah’s release.
But French Ambassador Patrice Paoli denied the U.S. has played any role in the delay.
“We respect all opinions and we call on everyone in Lebanon to be patient and wait for the court’s ruling on Jan. 28,” Paoli told reporters in Beirut Wednesday.
Commenting on the protests being called for in front of Lebanon’s French institutes, Paoli said: “France has always respected freedom of expression on condition that they cause no harm.”
Activists organizing the campaign to free Abdallah said that the Lebanese government needs to do more to help secure his release.
“The government should establish a ministerial committee to address Abdallah’s case and visit France and meet officials,” Bassam Kantar, an activist and one of the organizers of the demonstration told The Daily Star over the phone.
“Just like they established a ministerial committee for the kidnapped Lebanese in Syria, a committee should be tasked with finally bringing Abdallah back to Lebanon,” said Kantar.
Kantar also stressed that the Thursday protests in front of the French cultural institutes would be both peaceful and organized.
“We are escalating our movement to pressure French authorities to release Abdallah, but our movement will remain peaceful,” Kantar added.
He and a number of other activists are expected to meet with Prime Minister Najib Mikati later this week.
Abdallah was arrested in 1984 and was sentenced to life in prison by a French court three years later for the 1982 murders of American Lt. Col. Charles Ray and Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov in Paris.