Amnesty condemns military trial of Lebanese activist as Shia cleric charged with 'contact with Israel'

Amnesty condemns military trial of Lebanese activist as Shia cleric charged with 'contact with Israel'
3 min read
24 June, 2020
Amnesty have condemned the military prosecution of an activist charged with spying for Israel, as a Shia cleric opposed to Hezbollah was charged over a photo taken with a rabbi.
Kinda al-Khatib is being prosecuted by a military court for 'spying for Israel' [Amnesty International/Twitter]

Amnesty International have condemned the arrest and prosecution of Lebanese activist Kinda Al-Khatib on charges of "spying for Israel" as a prominent Shia cleric opposed to the Hezbollah movement has also been charged with "contacting Israel".

Al-Khatib, who has been active in the anti-corruption protests which began in Lebanon last September, was arrested last Thursday in her hometown of Akkar in the north of the country.

She has been referred to a military court and accused of "working with the Israeli enemy", "entering occupied Palestinian territory", and "working with Israeli spies and operatives".

She was also accused of facilitating an interview between an Israeli TV channel and Charbel Hage, a Lebanese government opponent based in the US.

The Lebanese government has used accusations of contact with Israel as a pretext to detain opponents of the government before. In 2017, Lebanese security forces arrested and tortured actor Ziad Itani, forcing him to sign a confession that he collaborated with Israel. The accusations were later proven false and he was released, although in 2019 he was summoned for interrogation again by security forces.

In a thread published on its Arabic-language Twitter account, Amnesty International said, "International law rejects the trial of civilians by military courts, whatever the charges against them. We call on the Lebanese judicial authorities to transfer Kinda Al-Khatib's case immediately to the civilian courts.

"Military courts lack transparency in their investigations and their justifications of their rulings and only give the defence a limited space to appeal. These conditions violate the rights of civilians to a fair trial," the global human rights organization added.

Protesters have been holding an ongoing demonstration outside the court where el-Khatib is being tried.

Read also: Lebanon’s uphill corruption battle against an ‘untouchable class’

Dissident Shia cleric also charged

On Tuesday, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Mount Lebanon Governorate charged Sayed Ali Al-Amin, a Shia Muslim cleric critical of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah, which supports the current Lebanese government, with "meeting Israeli officials in Bahrain", "constantly attacking the [Hezbollah] resistance and its martyrs", "incitement among sects", and "violating the tenets of the [Shia] Jaafari school of [Islamic] thought".

If found guilty, Al-Amin could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

The charges were based on a picture of Al-Amin taken at an interfaith conference last year in Bahrain, where an Israeli rabbi appeared in the background, the Arabi 21 Arabic news website reported.

Lebanese politicians and activists have reacted angrily to the arrest of Al-Amin, saying that the charges against him are politicised, characterizing them as "an attempt by Hezbollah to demonise its religious opponents", according to Arabi 21.

Lebanese writer Ali Al-Amin (no relation to the cleric) said that "accusations of working [for Israel] is now a tool to silence and subdue voices opposed to Hezbollah’s power and influence in Lebanese state institutions.

He said that Sayed Ali Al-Amin made a statement at the time that the photo was taken saying that he didn’t know the rabbi was from Israel.

Lebanese activists on Twitter pointed out that a picture was taken before showing Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s former foreign minister and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an anti-terrorism demonstration held in France in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks of 2015.

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