Lebanon lawyer briefly detained over sex ring allegations

Lebanon lawyer briefly detained over sex ring allegations
A Lebanese lawyer was arrested in a dawn raid after accusing government officials of complicity in Syrian sex trafficking rings.
2 min read
02 June, 2016
Lebanese lawyer Nabil al-Halabi [Nabil al-Halabi]
Lebanese authorities arrested a prominent lawyer after he made accusations that government officials were involved in a sex trafficking ring that was broken up in March, Human Rights Watch [HRW] reported.

Nabil al-Halaby was detained during a dawn raid on his home on Sunday, following two libel suits that were filed against the latter by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouq and a senior government aide.

Halabi was released in the afternoon after signing a pledge that he will stop any "personal slander" against the minister, a security source said.

In Lebanon, libel is treated as a criminal offence, with Halabi facing up to a year in jail if found guilty.

The lawyer made the accusations on Facebook after Lebanon's largest known sex trafficking ring was shut down by authorities in March. The breaking up of the network freed at least 75 Syrian women who were held against their will.

"Who is protecting the human trafficking ring in Lebanon?" Halabi asked in a Facebook post, after which he alluded to Interior Minister Machnouq without naming him.

Elsewhere, the lawyer and director of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights [LIFE] said that the interior ministry needed to "clean" itself up.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk
Suing for libel: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk

Human rights groups have raised alarms about Syrian sex trafficking to Lebanon and Halabi is not the first to have made claims about official complicity.

"Al-Halabi's arrest for criticising Lebanese officials and the intimidating way it was carried out sets a dangerous precedent," said Nadim Houry, Deputy Middle East Director for HRW.

"The Interior Ministry may not like what al-Halabi wrote, but that didn't give them the right to storm into his house and lock him up."

Lebanese laws relating to 'libel', 'defamation' and 'insult' are vaguely defined, and HRW has said that legislation allowing for the imprisonment of individuals for expressing criticism is "incompatible with Lebanon's international obligations to protect freedom of expression."