Beirut, November 26, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the imprisonment without charge of Abdel Hafez al-Houlani, a correspondent for the Syrian pro-opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl in the northeastern Lebanese city of Arsal, and called on Lebanese authorities to immediately disclose charges against him or set him free.
Lebanese State Security, one of Lebanon’s four main intelligence and security agencies, summoned Al-Houlani for interrogation to their offices in the northeastern city of Hermel, 144 kilometers (89.4 miles) northeast of Beirut, upon his return from Syria on November 21 and has since held him there without informing him of any charges against him, according to his employer, the Syrian Journalists Association, and news reports.
Fathi Ibrahim Bayoud, editor-in-chief of Zaman al-Wasl, told CPJ that the summons to Al-Houlani followed the publication of an article with his byline dated November 18, 2018, saying that 20 pregnant Syrian refugee women living in Arsal had miscarried after drinking polluted water that allegedly carried a deadly virus.
The article, which cited unnamed medical sources, said the women didn’t have any previous conditions and hadn’t experienced any previous miscarriages. Citing the Lebanese Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi, the article attributed the problems facing Syrian refugees in Lebanon to the lack of coordination between another security agency, General Security, and the Ministry of State for Refugee Affairs.
“We are alarmed by the jailing without charge of Syrian journalist Abdel Hafez al-Houlani and call on Lebanese authorities to release him immediately,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington, D.C. “Reporting on refugee matters is not a crime. Rather than jailing journalists, Lebanese authorities should do everything in their power to guarantee their safety.”
The Lebanese State Security didn’t immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Lebanese intelligence agents in May 2018 arrested Al-Houlani at his tent in the Wafa al-Umani refugee camp in the northeastern Lebanese city of Arsal, 123 km (77 miles) northeast of Beirut, and took him to the Defense Ministry prison in Beirut without informing him of any charges, according to CPJ research. CPJ could not determine which security agency had arrested him. He was released a day later.
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 covers human interest stories and social issues involving refugees, Mohammad Hamdan, Zaman al-Wasl‘s managing editor, told CPJ in May 2018.
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.