Lebanese authorities have released a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month, hours after two international human rights groups called her detention arbitrary and demanded that she be set free, her lawyer said.
Nada Homsi was detained on November 16 after her home in Beirut was raided by members of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate “without judicial order” and was denied access to a lawyer, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade, told The Associated Press later on Wednesday that “Nada is at home and the decision to deport her has been dropped,” adding that all her papers and documents were given back to her.
Homsi, a freelance journalist working with the United States media outlet National Public Radio (NPR), had been held until Wednesday despite Lebanon’s public prosecutor ordering her release on November 25.
“General Security’s refusal to release Homsi despite the public prosecution’s order is a blatant abuse of power and a very worrying indication of the security agency’s lack of respect for the rule of law,” Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said when calling for her release.
Homsi was charged for drug possession after General Security found a small amount of cannabis at her home and charged her with drug consumption, her lawyer Chehade said earlier on Wednesday, but officers from the agency had said she was being held for “security reasons”.
No security or military charges had been filed against Homsi, despite General Security officers claiming the raid on her home was based on security intelligence gathered by their information unit, the statement by the rights groups said.
#Lebanon's General Security has been detaining US journalist Nada Homsi since Nov16 for unspecified "security reasons," & did not allow her to contact family/lawyer for 6 days after arrest. Her detention is arbitrary & GSO should release her immediately.https://t.co/bC0k9sOJT4 pic.twitter.com/s3tyYP8lHQ
— Aya Majzoub (@Aya_Majzoub) December 8, 2021
Homsi was also denied access to a lawyer for six days, and in violation of article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, was interrogated without the presence of one, according to Chehade. Homsi was told by officers that “these rights do not apply at General Security.”
Under Lebanese law, a person can be detained without charge for a maximum of 96 hours and then must be released if no charges have been filed.
Chehade said General Security had continued to detain Homsi under the pretext that she was working in the country without a proper work permit, and the agency issued a deportation order for her about two weeks ago.
Diala Haidar, Lebanon campaigner at Amnesty International, had earlier called on General Security to “immediately release Homsi and allow her a meaningful opportunity to challenge her deportation in a competent, independent, and credible court”.
“They must refrain from detaining any individuals in relation to their immigration status, and promptly identify and hold to account those suspected to be responsible within its structure for violating Homsi’s due process rights.”
Homsi’s detention came amid what rights groups have said is a crackdown on journalists in Lebanon by state and non-state actors.
According to the Samir Kassir Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes), a media and press freedom watchdog in Beirut, more than 100 media workers have come under assault from non-state actors between the start of the uprising in October 2019 and November 2021.
Rights groups said security agencies regularly attack journalists who are doing their jobs, especially during coverage of protests. Yet accountability for such abuses remains elusive, with Lebanese authorities using the broad jurisdiction of the military courts to silence and punish peaceful dissent or criticism of the security agencies.