SOLIDE refutes claim that Syria’s prisoners have all been released
Maha Al-Azar
Daily Star staff  (16/12/00)
A human-rights activist on Friday countered State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum’s recent declarations that there were no more Lebanese in Syrian prisons and that parents who claim to have visited their loved ones were victims of “deception.” At a news conference at the Alexandre Hotel in Achrafieh, Ghazi Aad, spokesman for Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE) listed the names of detainees who were seen by their parents, “some as recently as August 2000.” “No one can convince the parents of Najib Youssef Jarmani, Tony Geryes Tamer, George Ayoub Shalawit and Milad Barakat that their sons, whom they saw in Syrian prisons, were  figments of their imagination,” he told reporters. “They visited their sons several times … and no one, no matter how high-ranking they are, can say this file has been closed.” Some detainees’ parents later gave accounts of how they had been visiting their children in Syrian prisons.
Aad also listed examples that challenged the government’s “transparency” in dealing with the detainees’ files. “We all remember the case of Sheikh Hisham Minqara from the Tawhid Movement in Tripoli, and Samir Hassan, both of whom returned to their homes in Aug. 2000, one month after an official (former Prime Minister Salim) Hoss-appointed committee had declared them dead,” he said. Both men had been missing for 15 years. “Who’s trying to abort this initiative?” he asked in response to accusations that NGOs have been misleading the public.
The news conference started with the families of detainees and missing people wearing blindfolds and standing with their heads bent in silence for “one minute of oppression.” Aad also responded to Addoum’s accusations that NGOs were “politicizing” the detainees’ issue. Addoum said on Tuesday that “my mission is to receive those arrested in Syria and if the government asked me to investigate (into the files of those who are allegedly in Syria), I’m ready.” “The question is,” Aad retorted, “since when does the state prosecutor’s office wait for a political decision to investigate a crime? And what about the principle of separation of powers? And if people cannot resort to the judiciary and the state prosecutor to look into their complaints, then who should they go to?”
Aad also questioned Addoum’s claims that all 95 Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails whose names were published Thursday had committed their crimes in Syria. “We know of at least one case, that of Joseph Khweis an epileptic since the age of seven who had, during one of his fits, accidentally rammed into a Syrian jeep, causing the death of two Syrian military personnel in the Bolonia-Dhour Choueir area, on June 1, 1991,” he said. “That means the crime was committed in Lebanon.” Khweis’ name appeared on the list of 95 Lebanese prisoners in Syria, which Addoum read out to the press on Thursday. Responding to criticisms of NGOs who included the names of people already released on their lists, Aad said: “The role of NGOs is to inform of someone’s disappearance, based on accounts they receive from the missing person’s family.”
While admitting that some names still remained on lists, Aad asked: “The question is, did the state prosecutor know of these people’s disappearance in the first place?” Meanwhile, residents of Baalbek held a news conference on Friday to deny that 22 people whose names appeared on NGOs’ lists had been detained.
Speaking to The Daily Star afterward, Aad attributed such denials to “fear,” saying: “Sure, they’re now back, but even Addoum had admitted that they had been detained at some point and were released later.” Human rights have been violated in all acts of detention conducted by Syrian forces, Aad argued, quoting Amnesty International as saying: “In not one of these cases were people detained based on an arrest warrant.” Moreover, the US State Department’s 1996 report on human rights in Lebanon stated that “the Syrian Army troops and Syrian intelligence agency would conduct their activities notwithstanding the agreement,” reached by the Lebanon and Syria in 1991, whereby both countries would cooperate through their armed forces. Aad said Syria’s enforcement of a “state of emergency law” since the 1960s allows for “unjust, secretive trials that do not follow international standards for fair trials.” SOLIDE reiterated its demand for a committee comprising both government and “independent, impartial and objective individuals” with the authority to interrogate both civilians and the military.
While Aad welcomed President Emile Lahoud’s initiative requesting that all security bodies accept the complaints of the families, he insisted such a move could not replace the committee because “we don’t trust a purely state-sponsored investigation.”