Lebanese State Security, one of Lebanon’s four main intelligence and security agencies, summoned Abdel Hafez al-Houlani, a correspondent for the Syrian pro-opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl in the northeastern Lebanese city of Arsal, for interrogation to their offices in the northeastern city of Hermel, 144 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Beirut, upon his return from Syria on November 21, 2018, according to his employer, the Syrian Journalists Association, and news reports. No charges have been disclosed, according to the same sources.
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 did not have any previous conditions and had not experienced any previous miscarriages. Citing 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.
As of late 2018, Lebanese State Security had not replied to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Mohammad Hamdan, managing editor for Zaman al-Wasl, told CPJ on November 29 that al-Houlani had been brought before court that day in Baalbeck on charges of inciting sectarian strife, but the judge postponed the hearing until December 4. Hamdan said he believes that al-Houlani’s article and a video in which the victims blame the miscarriages on either polluted water or expired medicines are the main reason for his arrest.
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, CPJ documented. 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.