Activists begin open-ended hunger strike
Maha Al-Azar Daily Star staff
Human rights activists began an open-ended hunger strike on Friday in support of three Free Patriotic Movement members imprisoned for distributing anti-Syrian flyers earlier this month. About 25 members of Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE) and friends and family of imprisoned opposition activists Tony Orien, Tony Harb and Maroun “Jamous” Nassif gathered outside the Mar Elias Church in Antelias to protest what they called their “illegal” arrest and sentencing.
The three FPM members were sentenced to six weeks in prison for distributing pamphlets that criticized President Emile Lahoud. The flyers allegedly accused Lahoud of turning the country into a Syrian “satellite” state. Orien began a hunger strike in prison to protest his sentence last Thursday, but was hospitalized Monday, where he has since been force-fed intravenously. According to his brother Emile, Orien is handcuffed to his bed to assist feeding him. “But he’s in amazingly high spirits.”
SOLIDE representative Ghazi Aad was the first to give up eating or drinking on Thursday evening. “We will be staging a 24-hour hunger strike by rotation. Every day a new person will take over,” he explained shortly after he broke his fast, adding that protesters were spending the night outside the church. “This is meant to be a continuation of the Roumieh sit-in,” he said. “We will not end our strike unless all detainees are released and all the illegal sentences are canceled.” Earlier Orien’s supporters planned a sit-in on a private plot of land near Roumieh prison. But security forces reportedly arrived and assaulted the protesters. Aad said that SOLIDE considered the accusations against the young people to be “void.” “They accuse them of instigating sectarian strife,” he said, “but they don’t consider the Akkar Ulema’s statement as instigating strife?” The Akkar Ulema is a loose grouping of largely Sunni and Alawite clergymen who accused the Maronite patriarch of being a traitor for demanding that Lebanese Syrian relations be rectified. “They also accuse them of insulting officials,” Aad continued. “We don’t think these young men said any more than (Beirut Orthodox Archbishop Elias) Aoude who said ‘officials are under their boots.’” Aad added that the activists’ criticism of Syria’s presence here was no harsher than what has been voiced by the patriarch or members of Parliament