Acclaimed Lebanese director hauled before military tribunal

Ziad Doueiri was held briefly on Sunday and released without charges by the tribunal the next day

Director Ziad Doueiri arrives at the premiere of the movie "The Insult" (L'Insulte) presented in competition "Venezia 74" at the 74th Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2017 at Venic Lido.  / AFP PHOTO / Tiziana FABI
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A military tribunal released Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri without charges on Monday morning after he was briefly detained on Sunday at the Beirut airport.

The director is in Lebanon for the local premiere of his latest film on Thursday.

Doueiri’s detention stemmed from his visits to Israel, according to the Samir Kassir Foundation, which takes up issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Lebanon.

The director filmed parts of his 2012 film The Attack in Israel, with which Lebanon is still technically at war. Lebanese law forbids its citizens from visiting Israel, and the film itself was banned in Lebanon.

The Samir Kassir Foundation said on its Twitter feed that Doueiri was released without being charged, while The Daily Star newspaper reported that he had been required to post bail nonetheless.

There was no immediate comment from the army.

The Samir Kassir centre also said Doueiri was given back both his passports — he holds Lebanese and French citizenship — which had been confiscated on Sunday.

Best known for his 1998 film West Beirut, Doueiri's latest work, The Insult, has received a positive response in Lebanon. Earlier this month the ministry of culture selected The Insult to represent Lebanon in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscar Awards next year.

The culture minister Ghattas Khoury tweeted in support of Doueiri on Monday, saying: "Ziad Doueiri is a Lebanese director who is great and respected in the world, respecting and honoring is a duty."

The Insult has also won international acclaim. Last week the Palestinian actor and director Kamel El Basha, who plays a Palestinian refugee in the film, won the award for best actor at the Venice film festival.

Actor Kamel El Basha receives the Coppa Volpi for Best Actor for his character in the movie "The Insult" during the award ceremony of the 74th Venice Film Festival on September 9, 2017 at Venice Lido.  / AFP PHOTO / Tiziana FABI

Doueiri's supporters condemned his arrest, with some questioning the timing of it, since he had filmed The Insult in Lebanon.

Adam Shatz, a New York City-based writer, said on Twitter: "His arrest is outrageous, petty, & a worrying sign re artistic freedom in Lebanon."

“If they had a problem with him, why did they let him film the movie in Lebanon? And they want him to be in the Oscars,” said Kassem Istanbouli, a director from the city of Sour and a campaigner for the revival of Lebanese cinema.

Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war led to the shuttering of most of the country’s movie theatres.

Doueiri's West Beirut remains a seminal work that has inspired many other filmmakers with both its technique and its frank portrayal of the civil war. The culture ministry entered it for the 1999 Oscar awards, but it was not selected as one of the five nominees.

Nadim Houry, the director for counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch, said that Doueiri's arrest was an example of how Lebanon’s laws were often applied arbitrarily.

“The application is erratic and political,” Mr Houry said. “It is particularly surprising and shocking as the facts of Mr Doueiri's visit [to Israel] have been well known for years, and for years, the state decided that it was fine.”

The law goes so far as to make interacting with an Israeli citizen in a third country illegal, and Mr Houry said it was time for the law, passed in 1955, to be amended.

“Citizens are not responsible for the acts of their states. It is also quasi-impossible to implement. In this day and age, any Lebanese who travels regularly is likely to bump into an Israeli and have an interaction with them,” Mr Houry said. “Just take a flight to Istanbul, Larnaca, Paris, London, Amman, and you are likely to meet Israelis at the airport. Are we going to put all these Lebanese in jail?”

The Lebanese government recently banned screenings of the Hollywood film Wonder Woman because the lead actress is an Israeli citizen.

* With reporting from Associated Press


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