Beirut, May 30, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern about the arrest of Abdel Hafez al-Houlani, a reporter for the Syrian pro-opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl.
Four men in plainclothes on May 24 entered al-Houlani’s tent in the Wafa al-Umani refugee camp in the northeastern Lebanese city of Arsal, 77 miles (123 km) northeast of Beirut, identified themselves as members of the Lebanese intelligence service, and took al-Houlani to an unknown destination, according to his employer, news reports, and the Syrian Journalists Association.
Although charges have not been filed against al-Houlani, news reports citing an anonymous Lebanese intelligence official said that the journalist was arrested because of his media activities.
According to an article from the journalist’s employer, al-Houlani was transferred to the Defense Ministry prison in Beirut, but the article did not specify when he was transferred.
CPJ was unable to verify independently al-Houlani’s whereabouts.
“We are concerned about the detention of Syrian journalist Abdel Hafez al-Houlani and call on Lebanese authorities to release him immediately,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney from New York City. “Rather than arresting correspondents, Lebanese authorities should do everything in their power to guarantee journalists’ safety.”
The Lebanese General Security and Internal Security Forces did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
In 2012, al-Houlani began contributing to Zaman al-Wasl, which was founded in 2005 by activists in Homs opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and became a staff reporter in 2013. He mainly covered human interest stories and social issues involving refugees; he did not cover Syrian or Lebanese politics, Mohammad Hamdan, Zaman al-Wasl’s managing editor, told CPJ.
Hamdan also said that, following al-Houlani’s detention, the Lebanese military intelligence seized the journalist’s car from the Wafa al-Umani camp and interrogated a man close to al-Houlani.
Al-Houlani, who is originally from Homs and moved to Lebanon in 2012, also works as a social worker and runs a small care center for elderly people in Arsal, according to news reports.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the quote from CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in the sixth paragraph.]