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Lebanon protesters demand Islamist detainees be freed

Relatives of Lebanese nationals accused of links to extremist groups gather during a protest outside the Mohammad al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut on April 6, 2018, to demand a general amnesty for their family members
AFP

Beirut (AFP) – Dozens of family members of  detained Islamists gathered Friday in Beirut to demand they be freed as part of a general amnesty ahead of Lebanon’s first legislative elections in almost a decade.

Activists have long campaigned for the rights of detainees accused of links to Muslim extremist groups, many of whom have spent years in jail without a court date. 

Their relatives have stepped up demands they be freed, and Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnuq said last month a draft law had been prepared for a general amnesty. 

On Friday, women, children, and men gathered outside Beirut’s Mohammad al-Amin mosque just as the main weekly prayers were wrapping up. 

Several had come from Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city which is majority Sunni Muslim, and carried signs appealing for clemency for arrested relatives. 

“They want to pardon drug traffickers. Our children are not terrorists but they are described as being part of these huge terrorist files,” said protester Iman al-Qar.

“Shame on them,” said the woman from Tripoli.

Sheikh Salim Rafei, head of the Muslim Scholars Authority in Tripoli, said he had urged Prime Minister Saad Hariri to “put in place a complete general amnesty before the parliamentary elections”.

He said more than 1,300 Islamist detainees lingered in jail in Lebanon, only a handful of whom had been accused of homicide.

Another protester said the legal rights of all detainees should be respected, regardless of their political stripes.

“The state should respect the rights of citizens whatever their political, religious or sectarian affiliations,” she said.

Lebanon is gearing up to hold its first general elections since 2009 in May, after the parliament extended its own mandate three times.

The protest came the same day as international donors at a conference in Paris pledged $11 billion in low-interest loans and aid for Lebanon to help stave off an economic crisis.

The Tripoli area has been rocked by deadly clashes involving Islamists over the years, including as part of the fallout from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

In 2011, deadly clashes erupted in Tripoli between Sunni supporters of rebels who rose up against the Damascus regime and Alawite supporters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

In 2007, Lebanon’s army fought against Islamists in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared north of Tripoli in a battle that left dozens dead.

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