Theater director cries foul as passport held by General Security

Lebanese theater director Lucien Bourjeily.(The Daily Star/ Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanese theater director Lucien Bourjeily provoked widespread outcry Wednesday evening when he announced on his Facebook page that his passport had been confiscated by General Security.

The measure would prevent his planned trip to London, where he is scheduled to stage his immersive play “Vanishing State” at next month’s LIFT Festival.

The director was shortlisted for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award in February this year. In 2013 censors banned his stage comedy “Will It Pass or Not?” which is set in General Security’s Bureau of Censorship.

Bourjeily had a visa appointment with the British Embassy last Friday, he says, but was told that, due a lack of space on the remaining pages, he would have to renew his passport before being issued a visa.

“I did all the paperwork needed to renew it,” Bourjeily told The Daily Star Thursday. “I went to General Security and I paid extra to renew it the same day ... Everybody else’s passport was renewed, but mine was left to one side, alone ... When I enquired they told me: ‘You cannot take your passport.’”

Officials refused to return his original passport, which was still valid, he says, or to issue him a new one. “My passport has been confiscated and I didn’t get any kind of feedback from them as to the reasons,” he added. “They told me: ‘It will be a month to a month and a half until we get back to you.

“It’s totally unacceptable. It’s a violation of human rights, it’s a direct threat to my economic security and my rights as a citizen of Lebanon to freely move around inside and outside Lebanon.”

Bourjeily says he asked the officials if he had committed a crime. “They told me: ‘No, there is no crime, or else we would have kept you here ... but there is something you did in 2013 and you should know what it is.’”

The director said he returned to General Security Thursday seeking clarification on the reasons for the confiscation, he says, but after he requested an official document he was given a note stating he would have to wait seven to 10 days for more information.

The Daily Star contacted General Security for clarification Thursday afternoon but was unable to reach anyone for a comment.

In the meantime, Bourjeily says, he is discussing how “Vanishing State” can be staged at the London festival in his absence. The play is based on the history of the Sykes-Picot agreement and its legacy in the Mideast.

“The show must go on, right?” he says. “We’re [reviewing] the options, but it’s an immersive play and the director needs to be there. Through technology – Skype, et cetera – maybe I can do it.”

After The Daily Star went to press Thursday evening, Bourjeily told the paper that Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk had made a statement to the effect that he would look into the matter of the director’s passport personally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 23, 2014, on page 16.




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