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More Islamists freed, indictments due soon
Supporters of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya celebtrate the releases Wednesday. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)
Supporters of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya celebtrate the releases Wednesday. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)
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TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: Two Islamist detainees were released in Tripoli Wednesday, as Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said the remaining prisoners, who have been held for several years without charge, would receive formal indictments within two weeks. “All Islamist detainees will receive indictments by Investigative Judge Ghassan Oweidat within two weeks,” Qortbawi said.

“The release [of prisoners] is a judicial issue and politics has nothing to do with it,” the justice minister said in remarks published Wednesday by the local daily Al-Joumhouria.

The release of the detainees, Jihad Qadi and Mohammad Wehbi, from the General Security center in Tripoli was welcomed by Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, which organized a prayer in Nour Square to celebrate the freeing of the men, in addition to the seven detainees who were freed Tuesday.

The event was also held in support of the victory of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammad Mursi and the Syrian uprising, according to organizers.

Hundreds of Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya members marched to the square carrying the flags of Lebanon and Egypt, as well as that of Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Al-Jamaa official Hasan Khayal said the march was an expression of joy over the release of the first wave of Islamist detainees and to show solidarity.

“Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya also stands behind rightful causes and rejects the unjust situation of the Islamist detainees,” Khayal said.

Later in the evening, supporters of Sheikh Tarek Merhi, the imam of Amira Mosque and a detainee in Roumieh, set up five tents in the square and blocked all roads leading to it, calling for the release of the remaining inmates.

Dozens of Islamist prisoners have been held for several years without trial over suspected links to Fatah al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda-inspired group which fought the Lebanese Army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.

Following Fatah al-Islam’s defeat, security services sought the arrest of 570 people for involvement with the group. Since 2007, 147 of the detainees have been released, leaving 98 in custody, according to judicial sources. Earlier reports incorrectly claimed that 180 inmates remained in custody.

“The release of a number of Islamist detainees doesn’t mean they are innocent, but that investigative judge Oweidat considered that they’d served enough time,” Qortbawi said. He added that more detainees could be released in the run-up to the indictments.

The minister added that once the indictments are issued, Oweidat would hand over jurisdiction to the Judicial Council, which will try those who have been charged. It is believed that some of those accused will be convicted of lesser charges and sentenced to time already served.

“This issue has taken a long time. It should have been dealt with before now,” Qortbawi added.

Fourteen men were originally scheduled for release Tuesday but the foreigners among them were referred to General Security. Two Lebanese citizens who were supposed to be released remain in custody.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 21, 2012, on page 3.
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