LCCC report on Balfour for 22/8/03

Lebanon tries Canadian as Israeli spy
Gulf Daily News:BEIRUT: A Canadian missionary charged with spying for Lebanon's arch-enemy Israel has told a military tribunal his visits to Lebanon were part of a project to replant its biblical cedar forest, judicial sources said yesterday. Bruce Balfour, 52, has been in jail since his arrest at Beirut's airport on July 10 on what judicial sources said were charges of working with the Jewish state to spy on Hizbollah guerillas and the Lebanese army. Balfour and another Canadian were charged in absentia earlier this year. The missionary was detained and sent to Rumieh jail near Beirut when he tried to re-enter Lebanon.
"I expect him to be found innocent because there is no serious evidence against him," said his lawyer Ibrahim Al Hariri. "This is not a judicial trial, it is ideological." The court set a new hearing for August 27 to allow for another witness to testify. Balfour's lawyer said he expected a verdict to be reached on that date, although a previous hearing for August 11 had also been postponed. Balfour seemed well and in good spirits, his lawyer said. The Canadian embassy in Lebanon said it was following the case and had visited Balfour in jail about a dozen times.
Prosecutors say Balfour visited and resided in Lebanon several times after Israel's 1982 invasion, and that he and the other defendant spied on Hizbollah and the army while purporting to work on a reforestation project last year. The prosecutors said both men tried to locate military positions of Hizbollah and the army and pass information about them on to Israel. It is rare for a foreigner to be arrested or charged over allegations of espionage on behalf of Israel.
Balfour told the tribunal he had crossed Lebanon's border into Israel while the area was still under Israeli occupation, but only on humanitarian missions, judicial sources said. Balfour, whose evangelical organisation, Cedars of Lebanon, is dedicated to replanting the country's biblical cedar forest, said his recent visits were linked to that project, they said.

Lawyer insists on innocence of Canadians accused of spying for Israel
BEIRUT, Aug 21 (AFP) - The lawyer of a Canadian pastor on trial in Lebanon for spying for Israel insisted Thursday on his client's innocence, a day after a second postponement of the verdict. "I remain convinced that Mr. Balfour will be found not guilty because there is no evidence incriminating my client," Ibrahim Hariri told AFP. "It is not a judicial trial, but a trial of intentions based on the apprehensions of one person," he said. He was referring to suspicions expressed by Fadi Husseini, an employee at the Lebanese agriculture ministry who said he found Balfour "suspect." During Wednesday's hearing, Hariri asked Husseini if Balfour had mentioned Israel during their conversations. "Frankly speaking, no," answered Husseini, adding: "But I did not feel at ease with him. He once told me that he wanted to work on reforestation because war would break out in 2010 and Israel would win it." On Wednesday, the military court postponed its verdict in the case of Balfour and another Canadian Protestant pastor also accused of spying for Israel after prosecutors asked for time to call a new witness. It was the second postponement that judges had granted the prosecution in the trial of the two pastors -- on August 11 the court already agreed a nine-day delay to allow time for two more witnesses to be called. Balfour, 52, stands accused of spying for Israel, where he lives "under cover of humanitarian activities", during several visits to Lebanon. Grant Livingstone, 81, who is being tried in absentia, is accused of aiding him. It is alleged that Balfour made contact with the agriculture ministry and travelled to the hills of southern Lebanon with the aim of gathering information about military positions and the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, which operates in the region. If found guilty, the pair face three to 15 years in prison. Canadian consul Mebs Velgi and embassy lawyer Fawzi Metni were present at Wednesday's hearing.

Balfour verdict delayed
Calgary  Bruce Balfour, charged with collaborating with Israel, will face a military tribunal in Lebanon next week. He made an appearance before the panel of judges Wednesday, explaining that he was in Lebanon as part of a religious group's efforts to plant cedar trees. Balfour said he was innocent of the charges, and that his mission to Lebanon was both a religious and environmental one. Prosecutors say Balfour wanted to locate military positions of the Lebanese army and the militant group Hezbollah, so he could pass the information to Israel. Under Lebanese law, collaborating with Israel is punishable by up to three years in jail.  Balfour has visited Israel in the past. He has been in a Lebanese prison since his arrest July 10, at the Beirut airport, and Canadian officials weren't immediately notified. His trial was to be wrapped up Wednesday, but the judges wanted to hear from more witnesses and put the case over to Aug. 27, a department of foreign affairs spokesman says. A verdict is expected that day. Canadian consular officials attended the trial. Balfour's lawyer, Georges Assaf, says he's optimistc about the outcome of the case. Larry Heather, who belongs to the same religious group as Balfour, is concerned his friend is not getting a fair trial. "I'm not overly optimistic, given the state of government in Lebanon today," he said. "It's influenced by Syria and by the Hezbollah. I do pray for the best. "But by the way they've gone about it, in the initial laying of the charges, which have been quite unfounded, I'm not optimistic on what's going to happen."