Outrage of the day

07.30.03

Bruce Balfour, a Canadian from Alberta who was arrested in Lebanon for the “crime” of having been to Israel, is being placed on trial for “collaborating with the enemy”:

A Canadian diplomat told AFP earlier Wednesday that Balfour was arrested on arrival in Beirut on July 10 and thrown into Rumiyeh central prison, northeast of the capital, for reasons that were not then clear.

Prison authorities failed to inform the Canadian consul until several days later, contrary to the Geneva Convention, which stipulates a maximum 48-hour period for consuls to be informed of the arrest of one of their nationals.

A Canadian diplomat has visited Balfour in jail and he has been given food, money and clean laundry.

Balfour told the Canadian diplomat who visited him he was arrested after showing his passport to officials at Beirut airport, and believed he was imprisoned “because he’d gone to a neighbouring country”.

Foreigners who have visited Israel and have Israeli stamps in their passport are not allowed to enter Lebanon, which is technically still at war with the Jewish state. Normally, they are deported.

The National Post reported only two days ago that the Lebanese Government still had not confirmed the reason for Balfour’s detention, but that Balfour himself had written a letter to the Canadian Embassy claiming that he was being held because he once visited Israel (via Damian Penny):

“I was arrested because a computer entry said that I have been in Israel at one time, which is true,” Balfour said in his letter. ” But please tell me where the crime in this is. My freedom has been taken away and I have been treated horribly,” wrote Balfour.

[ . . . ]

She said her brother was informed at the Beirut airport that it is illegal to enter Lebanon if a person has already visited Israel and their records showed that he had been to the neighboring country. She says if that is the case, then he should be simply charged and fined, as the law apparently provides, and subsequently released.

But he wasn’t simply fined and deported, he was locked up for nearly three weeks already and is now apparently going to be put on trial for some bogus, trumped-up charge. This sham of a “trial” is sure to be another shining example of the “transparent and democratic justice system” in Lebanon.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nanook 07.30.03 at 11:21 PM

There is something odd about this. I know that most people know better than to have their passports stamped with Israeli stamps if they have any plans to visit Arab League countries.

So Bruce Balfour didn’t, either for lack of foresight or stupidity or political convictions or whatever. Fine. But surely that can’t have been the big reason they tossed him in jail? I know that the ban isn’t always applied evenly — I know an engineer who was in Lebanon after Israel for work, had had his passport stamped in Israel, and got into Lebanon no problem. (He didn’t even know it could be an issue until someone asked him about it afterwards.)

But still. Maybe they were after jailing a Christian missionary — presence of such groups in Lebanon can’t be making the government exactly ecstatic given, uh, a bit of intercommunal tension — and were looking for some reason to nab him? I don’t really know. But I guess that more details will slowly begin leaking out.

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2 segacs 07.31.03 at 12:00 AM

Well he said his name came up on a computer as having been in Israel. The customs people no longer rely on stamps in physical passports to track the movement of people across borders. Everything’s computerized. So the old “stamp a piece of paper” trick doesn’t do it anymore, I guess.

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3 Nanook 07.31.03 at 12:13 AM

Ah … he’s not stupid then, I guess.

But that does hint even more strongly that we don’t quite have the whole story here. The news article said he came up in a computer as having visited Israel and was sentenced in absentia by a Lebanese military court for it, four months ago.

It doesn’t seem reasonable that Lebanese military courts would be systematically churning through all persons to visit Lebanon and convicting them in absentia. Nor does it seem likely, for that matter, that Lebanese information systems are linked with Israeli (country he visited) or Canadian (country of passport) systems such that the information would pop up just like that.

Rather, someone would have to exist whose job it is to populate those databases. Who would have noted that Balfour visited Israel, maybe through old-fashioned data mining like newspaper-scouring or — all spy-like — getting hold of “secret” Christian missionary group newsletters or something, and duly recorded it for it to later pop up at the military prosecutor’s office.

The plot thickens …

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4 Nanook 07.31.03 at 12:13 AM

… churning through all persons to visit Israel, I mean.

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