The Forgotten Detainees
By: Elias Bejjani

Any government in the world using double standards with its own people is corrupt and definitely needs to be changed. Such a government simply does not respect or abide by the United Nation’s International Human Rights covenants, and most importantly is infringing on its own county’s constitution, laws and basic human rights.

Thousands of innocent Lebanese citizens are held illegally in Syrian jails and Nazi-style detention camps under inhumane conditions, without trial, charges or even knowledge of their whereabouts. They are deprived of all legal rights. Their families do not know if they are alive or dead. Those detainees are frequently tortured for months or years while held in isolation from the outside world. Needless to say, some of them do not survive the brutal torture.

Detainees’ families and relatives go desperately from one authority to another, both in Lebanon and Syria, with each denying knowledge of the arrest. Many families are blackmailed on an ongoing basis and forced to pay thousands of dollars to bribe influential Syrian and Lebanese officials in a bid to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. I personally know a mother who paid five thousand dollars to just be able to watch her 26 year-old son walking at the jail yard in Damascus from a distance of 500 meters. A friend, whose father was kidnapped from Beirut airport (taken bodily off a plane by security forces) 4 years ago in the presence of his daughter on their way to Canada, paid more than $ 40,000 in vain and could not get anywhere. Today his father’s fate is still unknown.

For years Syrian authorities have been refusing to cooperate with International Human Rights Organizations and have declined even issuing a list with the names of those detained and the legal reason for their imprisonment. All Lebanese detainees held in Syria were arrested in Lebanon either by the Syrian troops, local militias or by the Lebanese security forces and then transferred to Syria without the knowledge of their families and in the absence of any legal formalities.

It is well documented by hundreds of reports issued by International Human Rights Organizations, USA State Department, and numerous other regional and local, civil, religious, and non-political organizations that detainees in Syria are exposed to all kinds of barbaric torture.

The Syrian-installed Lebanese regime ignores the whole dilemma and pretends as if it does not exist. It refuses even to acknowledge the disappearance of these unfortunate victims. All police stations and civil courts in Lebanon refuse to document any report in this regard. Some detainee families were able to meet with the president of the regime and ask for his help. He never committed himself to an obligation in this regard, although he publicly admitted through a live T.V. interview that three hundred Lebanese citizens are detained in Syrian jails. The Lebanese nationals detained in Syrian jails are political prisoners of conscience and some of them have been detained for more than 15 years.

Those lucky few who have been released suffer severe physical, mental and psychological problems. A Palestinian Catholic, Christian, refugee living in Lebanon had a mental breakdown 24 hours after his release and tried to commit suicide. He spent eight years detained in Syria without trial or charge. After release he found his wife (who had two children when he was arrested by the Syrian troops) had remarried and had borne another two children. She was under the belief that he was dead. Syrian authorities had refused even to admit his arrest.

Last March, Syria released 121 Lebanese citizens who had been imprisoned for periods exceeded 15 years under unclear legal circumstances, without official acknowledgment of their detention or whereabouts. Syria never admitted before the day of their release that any of them even existed.

The Lebanese regime uses double standards in dealing with its own people. It fights fiercely on all levels for the release of less than 200 citizens held by the South Lebanon army and Israeli troops in South Lebanon and Israel. The same regime ignores the dilemma of thousands of detainees in Syria. This puppet regime actually does not represent the people’s aspirations, interests, hopes or dreams, and most importantly does not share with them, their agony and pain. It serves only its Syrian masters, or otherwise it would have practiced its legal rights and brought all Lebanese detainees back to Lebanon where they were originally arrested and where they must be tried for any charges. And for the leaders of other countries, who enjoy freedom within their own borders, it is very shortsighted to receive with open arms other leaders who have no respect for basic human rights.

It is really disgraceful and humiliating for any Lebanese group, party, religious sect or organization, especially in the Diaspora, to use double standards when dealing with the detainees’ dilemma. Those who lobby only for the detainees in South Lebanon and Israel should be ashamed of themselves and thoroughly review their acts. Otherwise, they are committing a crime, a crime that thousands of their fellow Lebanese detained in Syria and their families will not forget or forgive. All Lebanese efforts should focus with equal zeal on detainees in Syria and in Israel.

French President and Lebanon’s appointed Prime Minister (Mr. Hariri) Joined forces to secure the release of Miss. Suha Beshara few days ago. (from Khiam jail in South Lebanon). We commend both of them for their efforts in this regard and remind them that there are thousands of innocent Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails who need their help too. We call on them and on every free country in the world as well all human rights organization to help in the release of the forgotten Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails. We the Lebanese ask for fairness and equality in dealing with our detainees in both Syria and Israel…we suffered more then enough from double standards.

God bless Lebanon and those Lebanese who are not afraid to witness for the truth.
Long Live Free Lebanon