BEIRUT: Riot police closed off the street leading to the French Embassy in Beirut Sunday, blocking the path of several dozen supporters of Leftist militant Georges Abdallah who turned out to protest his continued incarceration in France.
Demonstrators gathered before the security barrier, with organizer Bassam Kantar denouncing the security forces for preventing the protest from nearing the embassy, “perhaps so that the shouts of activists demanding freedom for Georges Abdallah do not reach the ears of [French Ambassador] Patrice Paoli and all the oppressors who persist in imprisoning this Lebanese militant, this oppressed citizen.”
Abdallah was scheduled to be released and sent back to Lebanon in January after spending over 28 years in prison for killing an Israeli diplomat and an American military attaché, but the French interior minister has twice denied the deportation order. A new hearing has been set for March 21.
Kantar said the International Campaign to Free Georges Abdallah, which has held regular sit-ins since January, suspended their activities two weeks ago to give Lebanese politicians a chance to apply pressure through diplomatic means. Kantar reminded the president, prime minister and ministers in his speech of their promise to send a delegation to France to follow up on Abdallah’s case and to file an official complaint with the United Nations.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Najib Mikati raised the issue of Abdallah’s imprisonment during an official visit to France, calling for his release on “humanitarian grounds.” Abdallah’s family responded in the media, emphasizing what they see as the political aspects of the case.
Abdallah was arrested in 1984 and later convicted for the 1982 killing in Paris of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov and Lt. Col. Charles Ray, an American military attaché. He was also implicated in the attempted assassination of U.S. Consul General Robert Homme in Strasbourg in 1984.
Abdallah fulfilled the minimum requirement of his life sentence in 1999. Earlier this year, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that Abdallah be released and sent back to Lebanon, but the Interior Ministry blocked his deportation at the last moment. Abdallah’s supporters have accused the French of caving to American pressure after the United States came out strongly against his release.
The crowds chanted songs accusing France of being the “mother of terrorism” and an agent of Israel and the U.S. Following Kantar’s speech, an actor playing Abdallah re-enacted his incarceration using a large wooden cage.