Lebanese police arrest lawyer over sex trafficking allegations
BEIRUT // Lebanese police have arrested a prominent lawyer after he accused government officials of possible complicity in a sex trafficking ring broken up in March, Human Rights Watch said.
Police detained Nabil Al Halabi in a dawn raid on his home on Sunday after interior minister Nuhad Mashnuq and a senior adviser filed separate suits for libel and slander of a public official. Libel and slander are both criminal offences in Lebanon.
Human Rights Watch called for Mr Al Halabi’s immediate release, criticising both the manner of his arrest and the jail sentence he faces – up to one year – if found guilty.
The lawyer’s accusations, which were made on Facebook, came after Lebanese authorities broke up the country’s largest known sex trafficking network to date in late March, freeing at least 75 Syrian women who were being held captive.
Human rights groups say sex trafficking has soared in Lebanon as a result of the influx of desperate refugees from the five-year war in neighbouring Syria.
“Who is protecting the human trafficking ring in Lebanon?,” Mr Al Halabi asked in one Facebook post. He then alluded to Mr Mashnuq without naming him.
In other posts, Mr Al Halabi said the interior ministry needs to “clean” itself up.
Mr Al Halabi is by no means the only person to allege official complicity in sex trafficking in Lebanon.
Veteran Druze politician Walid Jumblatt has accused “high-level officials in the moral police” of being “complicit” in the trafficking.
But Mr Halabi is the only one so far against who criminal complaints have been announced.
The lawyer has been a controversial figure since last year, when his involvement in negotiations for the release of Lebanese soldiers and troops held by Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat Al Nusra, and ISIL drew accusations he was too close to the militants.
Last month, the lawyers’ syndicate stripped Mr Al Halabi of immunity from prosecution – something he had been entitled to as a syndicate member.
“Halabi’s arrest for criticising Lebanese officials and the intimidating way it was carried out sets a dangerous precedent,” HRW’s deputy regional director Nadim Houry said late on Tuesday.
“The interior ministry may not like what Halabi wrote, but that didn’t give them the right to storm into his house and lock him up.
“Laws that allow imprisonment in response to criticism of individuals or state officials are incompatible with Lebanon’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression,” Mr Houry added.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: June 1, 2016 04:00 AM