BEIRUT: Scores of demonstrators staged a sit-in near the French Embassy in Beirut to protest the unexpected delay in the long-awaited release of George Abdallah Monday.
The protest began hours after a French court postponed its decision on the release of Abdallah until Jan. 28.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati criticized France’s decision and urged Paris to allow the process of Abdallah’s release from prison to proceed.
“Prime Minister Najib Mikati telephoned the French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli, demanding an explanation about the reasons behind the delay in releasing the Lebanese citizen George Abdallah who has been held in French prisons,” said a statement by Mikati’s press office. “The delay in Abdallah’s release is an unjustified step and goes against his civil rights.
“The relevant French authorities should release him quickly so that he can return to his homeland and rejoin his family,” it added.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour will receive Paoli to discuss Abdallah’s case Tuesday. The French Embassy in Lebanon would not comment on the news of the postponement Monday.
Activists and members of leftist organizations clashed with Internal Security Forces and anti-riot police as they tried to storm the French Embassy along the Damascus Road in Beirut, in protest of France’s decision to delay Abdallah’s release, throwing eggs and stones on the guards and chanting anti-French slogans.
“Kick the French Ambassador out of Lebanon” and “Freedom for George Abdallah,” were some of the slogans demonstrators wrote on the wall facing the embassy.
After briefly blocking the road, the protesters retreated and erected a tent on the sidewalk facing the mission’s building, partially blocking one lane.
“This tent will remain here and the decision to expand the sit-in depends on how much effort the state exerts [to release Abdallah],” Joseph Abdallah, the prisoner’s brother, told The Daily Star.
Last week, a French court ruled 61-year-old Abdallah be released on condition that he be deported back to Lebanon, but the French Interior Ministry had not signed the order to expel him by Monday. “The only explanation for this is that [the French judiciary] has succumbed to U.S. pressure,” explained Joseph.
Abdallah said that further protests would be held across Lebanon if the state failed to make enough efforts to win his brother’s release.
“We will hold further protests near government buildings like the Grand Serail, Baabda Palace, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy,” he said.
Abdallah, a leftist militant, was arrested in 1984 and later convicted by a French court in the 1982 murders in Paris of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov and Lt. Col. Charles Ray, an American military attache.
He was also implicated in the attempted assassination of U.S. Consul General Robert Homme in Strasbourg in 1984.
Abdallah’s family and supporters argue that accusations against him were fabricated and that his continued arrest was due to U.S. and Israeli pressure. The International Campaign to Free George Abdallah was launched over six years ago to lobby for his release.
“We are here to demand the release of George Ibrahim Abdallah, who has been [imprisoned for] 28 years, although he fulfilled the minimum requirement of his life sentence 13 years ago,” said Mohammad Gharbieh, an activist taking part in the protest.
“I would like to say that he shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place ... there is no concrete evidence against him and he is still detained because that is what Israel and the U.S. want,” he added, lashing out at the state for its inaction on the release of Abdallah.
Hezbollah official Ghaleb Abu Zeinab was present as well.
“We [Hezbollah] believe that George Abdallah should have been here yesterday rather than today, and we have been supporting this hero and resistance fighter from the very beginning,” he said.
Abu Zeinab said Hezbollah maintained a low profile in supporting Abdallah so that its support won’t be negatively exploited.
Hezbollah also slammed French authorities over the delay in releasing Abdallah, accusing the U.S. and Israel of exerting pressure on France to keep the militant behind bars. “The French authorities are once again procrastinating in releasing Lebanese struggler George Ibrahim Abdallah as they are yielding to a campaign of blackmail carried out by the U.S. administration,” said a statement released by the party Monday afternoon. Hezbollah also questioned the sovereignty of the judiciary and the values of equal rights in the West.
“The continuous yielding of the French authorities to the will of the U.S. administration and the Zionist entity ... proves that talks about the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of justice values in Western states are lies,” the resistance group said.
Last week, the U.S. envoy to France openly opposed Abdallah’s release, voicing disapproval of the news of his deportation.
Hezbollah voiced concern that the interference of the U.S. and Israel in Abdallah’s case could further delay his release, and said relentless efforts by the state were required to secure his freedom. The party urged the Lebanese to show solidarity with Abdallah.
Lebanese Communist Party leader Khaled Hadadeh slammed the deportation delay, saying it demonstrated Abdallah’s case had been politicized.
“This proves Abdallah’s case has been politicized,” Hadadeh told The Daily Star. “They have been using the judiciary to hide the political reasons behind keeping Abdallah imprisoned ... but now, as there is no longer judicial justification for his imprisonment, politicians are starting direct interference.”
The LCP head echoed a similar view that France was acquiescing to U.S. desires that Abdallah remain imprisoned.
Hadadeh also lashed out at the Lebanese government, saying Beirut was failing to take any action.
For its part, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party condemned France’s decision to postpone the release of Abdallah, saying in a statement that his continued arrest now amounts to kidnapping.
Abdallah was expected to be deported Monday.