Lebanese authorities ‘free Deraa detainees’

Men’s lawyer says dissidents detained near Syrian embassy since August have been released

Rebel fighters operate an anti-aircraft weapon on the front line near Aleppo against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Photo: Reuters

Six Syrian dissidents who were detained near their country’s embassy in Beirut over a month ago were freed by Lebanese authorities on Tuesday, their lawyer said.

Five of them are former fighters from the rebel enclave of Deraa, which fell to regime forces last month. They had fled to Beirut fearing for their lives. Their lawyer said their release ends concerns they may be returned to Syria, where they face prison and death.

“The six detainees have all been freed,” Mohamad Sablouh said by phone.

General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim said last month that Lebanese authorities would not deport the men to Syria.

He had issued an order for their release four weeks ago that had not been enforced until Tuesday, Mr Sablouh said.

Lebanese authorities had detained the men for entering the country illegally.

Four of the six men were heading to the Syrian embassy to collect their passports when they disappeared in August. The remaining two were trying to secure travel documents prior to their arrest.

They were hoping to reach a third country after fleeing Syria.

But the men may have to stay in Lebanon temporarily because they have yet to access or secure their passports. Mr Sablouh said he managed to secure a passport for Ammar Kozah, the only former detainee who is not from Deraa.

“He has been instructed to get back to General Security in 15 days, after we secured his passport and handed it over to General Security,” he said.

Mr Sablouh previously told The National that the Syrian embassy had set a “trap” for at least four of his clients, who went there in August after receiving calls to collect their passports and were kidnapped metres away by unknown assailants.

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

The National reviewed a copy of the complaint in which four of Mr Sablouh’s clients say that men with Syrian accents blindfolded and abducted them near the embassy.

They said the men interrogated them in an unknown location before handing them over to Lebanese authorities.

Lebanon was under Syrian tutelage for nearly 30 years until 2005. The Iran-backed Hezbollah remains a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad since those days.

The armed group and political party wields great influence in Lebanon and militarily backs the Syrian army in the country’s civil war, in Deraa and elsewhere.

Updated: October 12th 2021, 6:07 PM