CPJ concerned about detained Lebanese journalists

New York, August 21, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the recent arrests of two Lebanese journalists accused of having illegal contacts with Israeli officials.

The journalists’ incarceration followed a series of large-scale arrests of Christians who oppose Syria’s military presence in Lebanon. About 250 individuals have been detained this month alone.

On August 16, Lebanese security officials arrested Antoine Bassil, a free-lance journalist who works for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre’s London-based radio service. According to CPJ sources and Lebanese press reports, Bassil is accused of serving as a go-between for Israeli officials and a Christian opposition figure named Tawfiq al-Hindi, who was also arrested earlier this month.

Yesterday, Bassil and al-Hindi were charged with having illegal contact with Israeli officials. Lebanon considers itself to be at war with Israel and bans any dealing with the Jewish state. The charge carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years, and possibly the death penalty.

On the evening of August 18, Lebanese military intelligence agents detained Habib Younes, an editor for the London-based daily Al-Hayat‘s Beirut office, at his home in the town of Jbeil.

According to Al-Hayat, the agents gave no reason for the arrest, and only told the journalist they wanted to ask him “some questions.”

Younes is accused of either meeting with or planning to meet with an adviser to Israel’s former coordinator for south Lebanon, CPJ sources said.

Authorities have provided no further details about the charges. CPJ remains concerned that both Bassil and Younes may have been detained in connection with their journalistic work.