Friday, November 11, 2011

Syrian activists' dangerous haven in Lebanon

Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on dissent has reportedly spread to Lebanon, as activists in exile are targeted.

Basma Atassi

"After being on the run in his country for more than three months, Omar Edelbi, a Syrian poet and an outspoken critic of President Bashar al-Assad, managed to escape to neighbouring Lebanon - fleeing the Syrian government’s crackdown on dissidents.

Many intellectuals in the region call it the Arab world’s "bastion of freedom"; indeed, Lebanon initially appeared to be Edelbi’s best route out of Syria, given its proximity, its familiarity and the many illegal border crossings available.

But a few weeks after his arrival to Beirut, he started receiving death threats on his phone and via his friends. A couple of months later, he found himself at a branch of the Lebanese military intelligence service, undergoing a four-hour interrogation for "attempting to weaken relations between Syria and Lebanon" and for attempting to "disrupt the Lebanese national fabric".

"The investigation led nowhere because they could not charge me with anything," said 41-year-old Edelbi, the spokesman of the Syrian Co-ordination Committees activist network. "But I believe the reason I was called for investigation is because they wanted me to stop what I was doing."

Edelbi, like dozens of activists who took refuge in Lebanon, organises anti-Syrian government protests, contacts media organisations and documents human rights abuses taking place in his country. But he says that the Syrian government has, through its own agents and in co-operation with the Lebanese intelligence, managed to extend its crackdown onto Lebanese soil.....

But while the attacks and the kidnappings have led to a debate about an entrenched problem in the judicial system with no solution in sight, Syrians living in Lebanon continue to wonder who attacked them, where their friends have disappeared to, and even whether it is safe to go grocery shopping in their own neighbourhoods.

Their wait, and the national debate, will inevitably continue."

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