Lebanon declares Balfour an enemy of the state
By David F. Dawes (Canadian Christian.com)
THE DETENTION of Canadian evangelical Bruce Balfour in Lebanon has created both anger and confusion.
In this country, the official opposition is castigating the federal government's perceived lack of action, while some Lebanese Canadians are decrying the imprisonment of someone they see as a benefactor. The tempest of controversy is further complicated by exaggerated media reports, which have somewhat clouded the facts of the case. A few online articles have stated that Balfour has been charged with "spying," while others say that he will be sentenced August 11.
So far, however, the only pertinent communication released by the Lebanese authorities does not specifically accuse Balfour of espionage, nor does it indicate what will happen when he makes his court appearance. On July 30, the Lebanese Ministry of Justice released a statement saying Balfour was being detained for "collaboration with the enemy"; the enemy nation in question is the state of Israel. Regarding Balfour's August 11 court date, the statement simply called it an "audience . . . with the Military Tribunal."
Balfour was born in B.C., and is now affiliated with the Calgary-based Cedars of Lebanon ministry. His organization, in partnership with the Maranatha Evangelistic Association, is dedicated to replanting the almost-vanished Lebanese cedars described in the Old Testament.
Balfour has written: "Since the original Cedar of Lebanon forest began to be cut down and used for wealth-building more than 4,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, etc., up to the British in the 20th century, few have planted new seedlings on the mountains of Lebanon . . . We are working toward planting forests of seedlings, back on the original slopes where they were first harvested by armies of people over the millennia."
Balfour was attempting to enter Lebanon when he was detained at the airport in Beirut on July 10. His predicament was first made public on July 22, when he was able to get a message to the Canadian Ambassador in Beirut.
Balfour stated: "After 11 days of hell in Lebanese prisons, I am finally allowed to make contact with you. I have tried more than 100 times to make contact, but nothing worked . . . I was arrested because a computer entry said that I have been in Israel at one time, which is true. But please tell me where the crime in this is. My freedom has been taken away and I have been treated horribly. This is against all international law and moral code of every civilized country in the world. I need to get out of here now. Every hour multiples the possibility of me being moved to another location and disappearing forever." In a followup message, he pleaded: "I desperately need your help now!! I pray you will not forsake me!"
It has since been learned that Balfour was initially charged, in absentia, in April.
Observers say that it is unusual for the Lebanese authorities to imprison travellers who have visited Israel. "I've been told the average punishment for this crime is a fine," said Laura Mackenzie -- Balfour's sister -- to the Ottawa Citizen. She added that her brother had recently sent a further message. "He seems to be doing well. As long as he's comfortable, that's my main concern -- as long as he's not being mistreated."
An August 4 CNSNews.com report from Jerusalem confirmed that Balfour was being treated humanely. The article quoted Helene Lafortune, Charges d'Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, who stated: "Mr. Balfour is visited by a Canadian counsel. He is in good health and good spirits."
Nevertheless, the Canadian government has expressed concerns about Balfour's plight. "Maybe he went too often to Israel for the liking of [the Lebanese> authorities," Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson Reynald Doiron told Can West News Service, adding: "Our job is to ensure due process of justice takes place, including full and unrestricted access to legal counsel."
According to a Canadian Press report, Balfour's alleged crime "is punishable by an extreme range of possible sentences, from the smallest fine and jail time to death in the most extreme cases. The harshest punishments have been reserved for military personnel or Lebanese deemed to have had a high-level involvement in the Israeli occupation from 1978 to 2000."
CNSNews.com has stated that a colleague of Balfour, Canadian pastor Grant Livingstone, has been accused of the same offence; he is evidently scheduled to be tried August 11, in absentia. Livingstone, who lives in Israel, told CNSNews.com that he and Balfour are "trying to help the Lebanese morale. The cedars are a beloved symbol of Lebanon." He added: "The Lebanese government had been cooperating with us. Evidently, they bowed to Iranian pressure." The news report did not elaborate on the alleged involvement of Iran in the case.
Stockwell Day, foreign affairs critic for the Canadian Alliance Party, has taken foreign affairs minister Bill Graham to task for not acting more forcefully. Canada has pledged to send $200 million in aid to Lebanon, and Day is urging that the aid be withheld until the case is resolved.
Citing the recent diplomatic furor with Iran over the murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi, Day asserted: "The only thing these tyrannical regimes understand is serious consequences. Authorities in Lebanon will not adhere to Canadian demands unless those demands are backed with consequences. A demand without consequences is like a car without fuel. You can press the pedal, but you will get nowhere."
Several Lebanese Canadian organizations, including the Lebanese Information Centre and the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation, have also reacted vehemently to the Balfour case. In a joint statement, they declared that they were "outraged by this shameful conduct of the Lebanese authorities, who do not represent the Lebanese people's hospitality, friendly traditions, love for peace, and respect for others. We find the mistreatment of a citizen of a friendly nation -- who came to Lebanon to help this country restore its own national symbol, the famed Cedars of Lebanon -- particularly horrifying.
"Instead of showing gratitude for the great volunteer work that Mr. Balfour has offered Lebanon, its people, and its reforestation efforts, the Syrian-appointed Lebanese regime arrested him for no just reason and infringed upon his basic human rights."
The statement exhorted the Canadian government "to give this matter their utmost attention, and to utilize all available means and resources to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Bruce Balfour."