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Lebanon releases US journalist after outcry from rights groups

Nada Homsi, who freelances for various outlets, had been detained for unclear reasons, following a run-in with authorities over a Palestinian flag hung from her apartment

Nada Homsi, a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month, gestures as she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Nada Homsi, a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month, gestures as she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese authorities on Wednesday freed a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month. The release came just hours after two international human rights groups called her detention arbitrary and demanded that she be set free.

Nada Homsi, the journalist, said after her release that her arrest was part of an intimidation campaign used by Lebanon’s security agencies against foreign journalists.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Homsi was arrested without a judicial order on November 16 by members of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate. The reasons for the raid remain unknown and her detention now is arbitrary, the groups had said.

“I feel good that I’m free but I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” Homsi told The Associated Press, adding that Lebanese security agencies are “going after foreign journalists so that they can’t cover things that are happening in Lebanon.”

Since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began two years ago, many foreign and local journalists have reported on widespread corruption among the country’s political class, which has been running the small nation since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

“Nada is at home and the decision to deport her has been dropped,” Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade, told the AP, adding that all her papers and documents were given back to her.

Earlier, Chehade said that the security forces that raided Homsi’s apartment found a small amount of cannabis. Chehade said the officers then called the public prosecutor, who issued an arrest warrant for Homsi and her partner, a Palestinian national. The officers confiscated her electronics and some documents, she said.

General Security members are deployed at Lebanon’s border crossings, ports, and the country’s only international airport, and the department usually deals with foreigners by issuing visas and residency permits.

“Not only did General Security officers raid Homsi’s apartment without producing a judicial warrant, but they also violated her rights in detention by denying her access to a lawyer,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Chehade said Homsi lives in Beirut’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh, and earlier this year, she raised a Palestinian flag on her apartment. This angered a district administrator who complained to the Lebanese army. Army intelligence members then came to the apartment and asked Homsi to remove the flag, which she did, Chehade said.

Homsi wrote a post on her Facebook account detailing the flag incident in May, her lawyer said. “I believe this was the motive that led to the raid,” Chehade said, adding that they found the cannabis during the raid.

On her Twitter account, Homsi writes that she is currently working for National Public Radio, and usually writes about Syria and Lebanon. Homsi has worked with several Arab and international outlets, including most recently, NPR.

General Security officers insisted that Homsi was detained “for security reasons,” but failed to provide any details to Chehade to allow her to prepare a defense, the rights group said. They added that no security or military charges have been filed against Homsi, but that she was charged for consumption of drugs.

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