Georges Abdallah: Tensions Rise at French Embassy Sit-In

From the sit-in protest in solidarity with Georges Abdallah in front of the French embassy in Beirut, 28 January 2013. (Photo: Alia Haju)

By: Qassem Qassem

Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The decision by a French court on Monday, 28 January 2013, not to release Georges Ibrahim Abdallah was expected. His supporters, who flocked to the French embassy in Beirut, were not surprised that the hearing for the appeal – filed by the prosecutor against Abdallah’s parole – was postponed to 28 February 2013.

This “breaking news” only served to stoke the protesters’ anger. Abdallah’s brother warned that the next move by the international campaign lobbying for Abdallah’s release would be determined by the government's stance.

But Abdallah’s comrades do not pin much hope on the Lebanese government. Nevertheless, they are holding out for a ministerial-judicial committee to be created to follow up on Abdallah’s case in Paris.

Monday’s crowd of Abdallah supporters at the French embassy in Beirut was not massive, but they managed to be a nuisance to those behind its walls: the French ambassador was forced to suspend all the embassy’s activities for the day.

The embassy was surrounded by metallic barriers and barbed wire stacked two layers high. Police officers appeared in full riot gear wielding batons. A new addition to the scene was a fire truck brought in by the police. Protesters noted an increase in such “security” measures despite the smaller number of activists.

These tactics did not succeed in intimidating the activists. As soon as they learned the news about the postponement, they stormed the barriers. The protesters threw the metallic barriers over the barbed wire, and then crossed. This prompted the police to advance in their direction.

Incidentally, the embassy’s anti-riot officers had undergone two training sessions in France: one on how to deal with protesters, and another on human rights, which France pays lip service to while denying Abdallah the most basic of them.

Before the two sides had the chance to clash, one of the activists threw himself on the ground to prevent his fellow protesters from advancing any further. No decision has been made for a confrontation with the security forces.

This minor scuffle was preceded by another, albeit of a different kind. The protesters had sent a radio-controlled plane, which some whimsically called “Abdallah-1,” over the embassy building, carrying a picture of the Lebanese prisoner. The plane crashed into the inner yard of the building after it stopped responding to the controls.

But the “mock raid” succeeded, and the message was received by the embassy’s protection detail who were stationed on the roof. All this happened under the eyes of Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel who was present at the scene.

Two hours later, most of the protesters left quietly. Those who stayed behind brought in more “reinforcements,” including an additional tent that was erected next to the original one. The police threatened to take the tent down, but once news spread on Facebook, dozens of activists came to the sit-in to negotiate with the police. The tent remains.

When Abdallah’s supporters were certain that the tent would not be dismantled, they pulled out, under the rain, while the security forces removed the barbed wire.

Meanwhile, members of the International Committee for the Release of Georges Abdallah met with foreign minister Adnan Mansour, who said that the government must step up its efforts regarding Abdallah’s release.

On the other hand, French Ambassador Patrice Paoli, after meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, predicted that there would be more protests, but reaffirmed his rejection of what he called “interference in the affairs of the French judiciary.”

Thus, “Francael” – a portmanteau of “France” and “Israel” coined by protesters on Monday – will deny Abdallah his freedom for yet another month. But his supporters are determined to continue their protests until Abdallah’s release is secured.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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