Syrians disappeared near Beirut embassy face deportation, lawyer says

Former rebel fighters face death and torture if returned to regime forces, families and rights activists say

Syrian Army soldiers stand near the police headquarters in central Damascus, Syria October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Lebanese authorities will deport on Monday six Syrian men arrested near their country's embassy last week, which might put them at risk of death and torture, their lawyer and a global rights group said.

Five of the arrested men were former rebel fighters from the southern Deraa province, where the Syrian uprising originated. They may face retaliation from regime forces should they be deported, lawyer Mohammed Sablouh told The National.

The rebel province has come under heavy assault by the Syrian army since July despite nominally being under government control.

“If we turn these men to the Syrian regime, we are signing their death sentence,” Mr Sablouh said by phone.

Lebanon’s General Security told Mr Sablouh the men had 24 hours to secure passports and visas to a third country or face deportation.

Four of the six men were heading to the Syrian embassy to collect their passports when they were arrested. The remaining two were in the process of securing travel documents prior to their arrest. None of them currently have access to their passports.

“I am pleading with the prosecutor general not to implement this decision,” Mr Sablouh said.

The men arrived in Beirut last month and went missing near the Syrian embassy last week after going there to collect their passports to travel to a third country.

The Lebanese army later said it had arrested Syrians with matching initials to those who disappeared, for illegally entering the country.

Mr Sablouh said the Syrian embassy had set a “trap” for at least four of his clients who received calls to collect their passports and were kidnapped before reaching the embassy.

He filed a complaint on behalf of his clients on Friday for arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, detention without any legal justification, and evidence of torture.

Mr Sablouh sent The National a copy of the complaint, in which four of his clients say that men with Syrian accents blindfolded and abducted them last Friday, 50 metres from the embassy. They say they were interrogated in an unknown location, and then handed to Lebanese authorities afterwards.

Lebanon was under Syria's hegemony for nearly 30 years. The Syrian government still has allies in Lebanon, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah. The group has fought alongside government forces and helped President Bashar Al Assad retake most of the country after 10 years of civil war.

“The Syrian regime set a trap for these men and when word got out they hid behind the Lebanese army,” Mr Sablouh says.

When contacted for comment, the Syrian embassy expressed surprise at the arrests last week and denied any involvement.

General Security could not be reached for comment.

Mr Sablouh said at least one of the men, a former armed group leader Toufic Fayez Al Haji, was subjected to beatings.

His nephew Mohamad Taysir Al Haji confirmed to The National from Turkey reports of imminent deportation and pleaded for help.

Mr Sablouh also said the Lebanese authorities denied his clients their rights to have access to a lawyer during interrogation.

“Their rights have been completely disregarded,” he said. “They are in grave danger.”

The Amnesty International rights group, meanwhile, urged Lebanese authorities to refrain from deporting the men back to Syria, a move they said would be a “serious violation of Lebanon’s international obligations”.

“No part of Syria is safe for returns, and these men must be protected,” Lynn Maalouf of the group said.

Updated: October 12, 2021, 4:18 PM