Journalist denies contact with foreign agents in Lebanon

Journalist denies contact with foreign agents in Lebanon

Majd Kayyal, released to house arrest Thursday afternoon, is suspected of meeting with Hezbollah operatives

Israeli Arab journalist Majd Kayyal (screen capture: YouTube)
Israeli Arab journalist Majd Kayyal (screen capture: YouTube)

An Israeli Arab journalist arrested over the weekend after a trip to Lebanon, and released on Thursday to house arrest, has publicly denied the charges against him, saying he had no contact with foreign agents during his stay in Lebanon.

Majd Kayyal was held on Saturday and denied contact with family or a lawyer after visiting Israel’s northern neighbor for a conference.

“There was absolutely no contact with any foreign agents,” Kayyal told the press after his release from police custody on Thursday afternoon. “I am under house arrest, for which I see no rhyme or reason. I was at something transparent and public. From day one I said I was there, each and every moment. Also, I wrote about it on my Facebook. There was nothing secretive or security [related] that threatens anyone.”

Kayyal charged that his detention for the better part of a week “shows the mindset of the defense establishment, which suspects everyone who has a desire to make an intellectual connection with the Arab world.” 

His detention on Saturday was kept under gag order until noon on Thursday, hours before he was released to house arrest.

Kayyal was taken into custody by the Israel Police and the Shin Bet Saturday at the Sheikh Hussein Border Crossing for suspected contact with a foreign agent and visiting an enemy state. Israeli citizens legally forbidden from traveling to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Iran.

A Tel Aviv magistrate extended Kayyal’s house arrest until Tuesday, in a hearing held Thursday.

Israeli security agencies believe that Kayyal, 23, met with Hezbollah operatives during a brief visit to the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

His lawyer said he had been questioned about contacts with Hezbollah and nothing had been proven, a spokesperson for Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told The Times of Israel.

According to the Associated Press, the Shin Bet said it had dropped that suspicion and was looked into indicting him for traveling to Lebanon.

Although Lebanon bars Israeli citizens from entering, the Shin Bet says Palestinian officials in the West Bank gave Kayyal Palestinian travel documents.

Kayyal is a resident of Haifa and a web editor for Adalah and writes for the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir.

According to Adalah’s Facebook page, he was returning from a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of As-Safir in Beirut.

The paper, seen as independent, recently published an exclusive interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

According to the Shin Bet, Kayyal does not hold an Israeli press card. The security service is expected to make a decision in the coming days whether to continue investigating him or file charges, Haaretz reported.

Adalah’s lawyers, who intend to represent Kayyal, attempted to visit him after his arrest, but the police issued a gag order preventing the meeting until Wednesday.

Kayyal’s primary lawyer, Sawsan Zaher, told Israel Radio that Kayyal has been kept in poor conditions since his arrest five days ago, and was not allowed to see his family.

Supporters of Kayyal intend to hold a protest rally for him in Haifa Thursday night.

Despite the gag order, during which his family’s Haifa home was searched twice by police, his arrest was widely reported in the Arab world and many sites began campaigning for his release.

On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded to a question about Kayyal by saying the US was looking into the reports of his detention.

According to Haaretz, Kayyal is a known political activist within Israeli Arab society. In recent years, as a voting member of the Balad party, he was one of the leaders of the protest against Israel’s Prawer Plan for Bedouin resettlement in the Negev.

He also participated in a November 2011 flotilla from Istanbul to Gaza held a year-and-a-half after the Mavi Marmara affair. The Israeli Navy boarded the two ships that took part in the second flotilla, and Kayyal was held for several hours before his release.

Suha Halifa and AP contributed to this report.

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