Lebanon releases actor accused of collaborating with Israel

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A Lebanese stage actor indicted on charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession has been released on Tuesday, effectively clearing him of the charges, while the officer who built the case against him was ordered detained.

Ziad Itani, a stage actor from a prominent Sunni family in Beirut who was arrested in November, told reporters after his release that his indictment was a “scandal” and responded in the affirmative when he was asked if he had been tortured into confessing. Lebanon and Israel are formally at war and collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death.

“I am a theater person, people! Why should I be accused of the worst crime ever?” he said. Itani’s arrest and subsequent release were heavily covered by local media, amid a struggle among political rivals with links to the country's various and often competing security agencies.

Lebanon's minister of interior, Nohad Machnouk, made a number of tweets congratulating the actor on his release, and even visited Itani's family home to congratulate them.

“The stage awaits you, and this time all of us will be watching so you can tell us of the journey of injustice and freedom,” Machnouk tweeted.

The case was withdrawn from one security agency and passed on to another after irregularities emerged earlier this month. Lebanon will hold its first parliamentary elections in a decade later this year, pitting prominent Sunni families in Beirut against political rivals.

Itani was received at home to a hero’s welcome. A large poster near his house showed a picture of him with a caption reading: “Beirut with you.” Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, hugged Itani after his release from prison, airing their meeting on his official Twitter account. Hariri said “mistakes happen” and were later corrected.

Later, Interior Minister Nehad Machnouk visited Itani at his home in Beirut. The office of the chief military prosecutor released a statement Tuesday saying it had ordered Itani's release. It didn’t say why the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hobeiche, the former head of the anti-cybercrime unit, had been arrested.

Local media reported that Hobeiche had fabricated the case against Itani based on his public social media profile and contacts. Hobeiche has been held for interrogation for days. A court decision is still required for the case to be closed and for Itani to be cleared of all charges.

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