By: Bassam Alkantar
Published Monday, July 15, 2013
Once again, Georges Abdallah, the Lebanese whom France continues to hold hostage, was present at the Bastille Day celebrations at the French ambassador’s Pine Residence in Beirut. Activists rallied to chant for his freedom on the day “liberty, equality, fraternity” are supposed to be honored.
The gates of the Pine Residence were closed to both Lebanese and French visitors wanting to celebrate Bastille Day on July 14. Instead, visitors were led into a small entrance, manned by a French officer in plainclothes who would let them in one by one, bestowing upon them the honor of entering the spacious palace.
The visitors were forced to queue in this rather humiliating manner for nearly two hours amid incessant anti-French chants from the activists who gathered on the opposite side to call for the release of Georges Abdallah.
Outside the Pine Residence, the activists displayed a large picture of French President François Hollande manipulated to show him extending his middle finger. We saw one bereted French officer from UNIFIL examining the picture, then nodding his head disapprovingly, not impressed by the insulting depiction of “le president.” But then, the original posters that inspired it had first been displayed in Paris, designed by Reporters Without Borders, mocking other heads of state.
At the Pine Residence protest, called for by the international campaign for the release of Abdallah, a number of speakers made interventions in solidarity with the Lebanese prisoner.
The speakers included the deputy chairperson of Hezbollah’s political council, Mahmoud Qamati, who called on French officials to preserve “what is left of their reputation by releasing Abdallah.”
Joseph Abdallah, Georges’ brother, spoke next, arguing that the French government has now become an American protectorate subservient to the US government “by continuing to detain Abdallah, conspiring against the peoples of the region, and openly supporting terrorism.”
Khaled Hadada, secretary-general of the Lebanese Communist Party, said that the occasion of Bastille Day and the values of the French revolution can be best honored by protesting for the freedom of Abdallah. Riad Sawma, secretary of the National Movement for Democratic Change, said that the Lebanese people will not abandon Abdallah, vowing that the activists would continue their efforts until he is released.
This was echoed by Mohammed Hashisho, a leader of the Popular Democratic Party, who proclaimed that Abdallah is a hostage, saying that France knows very well how hostages can be released.
Legally speaking, Abdallah’s case has remained in limbo since April 2013 when France's highest appeals court struck down a decision to release the prisoner who has been held in French prison for 29 years. Abdallah has since contested the ruling, but his move was disregarded.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is expected to issue its report on Abdallah in August. But France might continue to stall and ask for an additional month to respond to the complaint filed by the Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture. It is worth noting that the complaint filed before this UN body marks a precedent.