Lebanon police arrest lawyer over sex ring allegations

Veteran Druze politician Waleed Junblatt has accused “high-level officials in the moral police” of being “complicit” in the trafficking (File Photo: AFP)

Lebanese police have arrested a prominent lawyer after he accused government officials of possible complicity in a sex trafficking ring broken up in March, Human Rights Watch said.

Police detained Nabeel Al Halabi in a dawn raid on his home on Sunday after Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnouq and a senior adviser filed separate suits for libel and slander of a public official, both criminal rather than civil offences in Lebanon.

HRW called for Al Halabi’s immediate release, criticising both the manner of his arrest and the jail sentence of up to one year he faces if found guilty.

The lawyer’s comments on Facebook came after Lebanese authorities broke up the largest known sex trafficking network to date in late March, freeing at least 75 Syrian women who were being held captive.

In one message he asked: “Who is protecting the human trafficking ring in Lebanon?” and then alluded to Mashnouq without naming him.

In others, he said the interior ministry needs to “clean” itself up.

Al Halabi is by no means the only person to allege official complicity in sex trafficking in Lebanon, which human rights groups say has soared as a result of the influx of desperate refugees from the five-year civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Veteran Druze politician Waleed Junblatt has accused “high-level officials in the moral police” of being “complicit” in the trafficking.

But Al Halabi is the only one so far against whom criminal complaints have been announced.

The lawyer has been a controversial figure since last year, when his involvement in negotiations for the release of Lebanese soldiers and troops held by Al Qaida and Daesh drew accusations he was too close to the militants.

Last month, the lawyers’ syndicate stripped him of the immunity from prosecution he was afforded as a syndicate member.

“Al Halabi’s arrest for criticising Lebanese officials and the intimidating way it was carried out sets a dangerous precedent,” HRW’s deputy regional director Nadim Houry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“The interior ministry may not like what Al Halabi wrote, but that didn’t give them the right to storm into his house and lock him up.

“Laws that allow imprisonment in response to criticism of individuals or state officials are incompatible with Lebanon’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.”

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47