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    Who Is Sending Mamoun Homsi Back to Syrian Prison?

    As Prime Minister Saad Hariri gets ready to visit Syria for the second time since becoming premier, the Ministry of Interior told Mamoun Homsi that it will not renew his residency. Homsi, a former MP and Syrian opposition figure, was previously jailed by the Syrian authorities for his political opinions. General Security gave him until July 20 to get out of the country.

    As Homsi’s passport expired and its renewal was denied by the Syrian authorities, his only choice is to go back to his home country. Given his record of political activism against the Syrian regime, which continued during his stay in Beirut, we can say that Homsi has little to look forward to but persecution.

    Mamoun al-Homsi was first arrested in 2001, during the crackdown against the Damascus Spring Movement, which followed the election of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2000. He was sentenced to five years in jail for “attempting to illegally change the constitution.” After his release, he fled Syria in June of 2006 and came to Lebanon.

    The Syrian regime then seized his assets with the purpose of pressuring him and his family. However, Homsi did not budge. He continued criticizing the Syrian regime from Beirut, backed by March 14 and the principle of freedom of expression they cherished.

    From Beirut, Homsi called on the Syrian people in 2007 to boycott the parliamentary elections there. He also revealed to the press that he had sent a letter to US Senator Nancy Pelosi asking her not to visit Damascus. Homsi added that the idea of engaging the Syrian regime is “a very dangerous proposition because next will be a call to engage terrorist organizations.”

    Mamoun Homsi was also a signee of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration of May 2006, calling on the Syrian regime to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. The Syrian authorities arrested and jailed some of the other signatories, such as writer Michel Kilo and attorney Anwar al-Bunni. The activists were taken to trial in Damascus on charges of threatening civil peace, inciting sectarian differences and stirring civil war.

    Homsi is facing similar charges if he goes back to Damascus. Though he signed a declaration in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty and freedom, he was banished by the country he thought would protect him.

    In his statement announcing the decision of the Lebanese General Security, Homsi said that he feels defeated. “I see no reason for my banishment except the recent Lebanese opening to Syria,” he said. “However” he added, “Lebanon should amend its constitution and laws that make the country an oasis of freedom and democracy in the Arab world.”

    Homsi was betrayed by the country he believed in. After the March 14 victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections and the establishment of the so-called national unity government, we forgot our own values.

    Sadly, Homsi’s case did not provoke substantial reactions from Lebanese politicians and civil society. Except for a joint statement by former MPs Samir Franjieh and Fares Soueid, a press release by the National Bloc and the setup of a Facebook group calling for revoking the General Security’s decision, no one said anything.

    Homsi has a document from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees classifying him as a refugee, and he did not commit any act that would contradict the terms of his residency in Lebanon. Therefore, there is no reason except the one he pointed to for his being denied residency and put in danger of imprisonment. He was the sacrificial lamb for “improved Lebanese-Syrian ties.”

    Another distressing side to the story is that everybody thought Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, who was a civil rights activist before his appointment as minister, would never allow something like this to happen under his watch.

    No one expected Baroud to act as a staunch critic of the Assad regime, but handing a Syrian opposition activist to the authorities is like signing the death penalty for someone because of his political opinions.

    If Minister Baroud and those in charge at the General Security still believe in the freedom of expression and in Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, they need to revoke their decision and extend Homsi’s residency. Otherwise, they will not only be betraying independent Syrian citizens, but also their own values and those of people like Samir Kassir and Gibran Tueni, who fought and died for their convictions.

    This is not about Homsi anymore, or freedom in Syria. It is about Lebanon and what we want for it. We cannot send Homsi to Syrian prison after all we’ve been through and all the sacrifices that we made.

    We should not surrender that easily.

    Hanin GHADDAR
    NOW Lebanon

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