Lebanon must free a journalist detained without charge

New York, September 14, 2012–Authorities must immediately release journalist Rami Aysha who has been detained without charge and abused since being seized more than two weeks ago while investigating alleged arms smuggling in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“We are very disturbed by the mistreatment and continued detention of Rami Aysha and call for his immediate release,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists in Lebanon must be able to work freely during this critical time in the country’s history.”

Aysha, a Lebanese-Palestinian freelancer who has worked as a journalist and translator for several international outlets in Lebanon including Time Magazine, was captured by Hezbollah forces on August 30, according to a letter CPJ received from journalists for Time, Spiegel Online, Global Post, and other Beirut-based journalists who are concerned about his detention.

Aysha was arrested along with an army lieutenant identified as Wissam Abd al-Khalik and a third person identified as the officer’s cousin, according to a report by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. The report acknowledged that Aysha was a journalist investigating a potential story.

The journalist and the two men were in a car on an airport road near the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, when Hezbollah agents forced them at gunpoint into another car, the Beirut journalists said in their letter, citing information from Aysha’s lawyer. The three were taken to a Hezbollah office and held there for several hours during which they were severely beaten, the letter said.

Aysha sustained two black eyes from the beating, and Hezbollah agents smashed the video camera he had with him, although he had not filmed anything, Aysha told his lawyer, according to the letter. Aysha was then transferred to a military police station in Beirut, where he was beaten by military police, the letter said. His case was heard before a military judge who refused to release him on bail, although no formal charges have been brought.

On September 12, Aysha was moved to Quba Prison in the northern city of Tripoli, far from his wife and daughter, according to the letter from the Beirut journalists. The journalist was put in a cell with 70 to 90 other inmates, his brother, Ramzi, told CPJ. The brother said the Aysha family was notified that they could visit him only three times a week, for just a few minutes at a time. Ramzi Aysha said that when he visited his brother in prison, he was allowed to see him for only two minutes. The journalist expressed great concern about his well-being, the brother said.

The journalist has frequently covered arms smuggling from Lebanon to neighboring Syria, which might be a reason for his detention, Ramzi Aysha said. The journalist has told authorities he was simply working on a story and was being unjustly detained, according to his brother. The letter from the Beirut-based journalists also said Aysha had often worked on arms smuggling stories; the letter said he often pursued such stories on his own initiative.

Aysha has worked for several international news outlets since 2007. Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, he has covered the conflict and the emergence of the rebel Free Syrian Army, the letter said.

On Thursday, a military judge said the journalist could not be released until the investigation was completed, according to his brother. Aysha’s court date has not been set yet and under Lebanese law, he could remain in detention for up to six months without charge, Ramzi Aysha said.

Lebanon has increasingly been affected by the unrest in neighboring Syria, CPJ research shows. In April, CPJ documented the killing of a Lebanese cameraman while filming near the Syrian border.

  • For more data and analysis on Lebanon, visit CPJ’s Lebanon page here.