Samir Geagea: A Prisoner Of Conscience

Discours et Textes, Samir Geagea

“Jailers handcuff him and blindfold him whenever he is taken out of his cell and in seven days a week he is allowed to talk to his relatives, lawyers and priests for no more than 60 minutes… He is often shaken out of sleep to be randomly frisked in a degrading manner.” Samir Geagea®s attorneys complained to Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in July 2001. They added, “Geagea suffers devastating torture in lightless, airless dungeon. He is subjected to ruthless, systematic, deliberate and devastating psychological torture in a narrow, airless and lightless underground dungeon” at the Lebanese Defense Ministry in Yarze.

Dr. Samir Geagea has been in solitary confinement for over 8 years. His trials fell below International Standards for Fair trials and were characterized by coerced testimonies and flagrant discrepancies during the course of his 5 political trials. He is held in a cell measuring about 8 feet in length and 7 feet in width located three stories under ground in the Lebanese Ministry of Defense jail. The cell is poorly ventilated and deprived of sunlight as well as any other light due to the fact that its door is always closed. The guards use the small window in the door to periodically check on him. He sleeps on a humble, flat bed and has no space to store the numerous spiritual, philosophical and scientific books that he reads. For over eight years, Dr. Geagea has been denied access to political publications and media. Even when the government recently approved his lawyers® request to receive the Economist Magazine, pages with political content were removed prior to its delivery to his cell. When he asks the guards for any of his needs, he is never answered even when obliged. He is not allowed to engage in any conversation with his guards, in reality nobody is allowed to talk to him except his parents and his lawyers.

Dr. Geagea suffered several health set backs especially from humidity and was hospitalized. He is denied any connection with the outside world except short visits by his wife, parents and lawyers. Those visits are usually monitored and censored and do not extend beyond twenty minutes. Jail officials did not abide by court orders and shortened his visits with his wife and parents to a quarter of an hour instead of a half-hour on Tuesdays and to twenty minutes instead of an hour on Thursdays. He has continuously complained to prison officials to respect the time he spends with his family and his lawyers but his complaints fell on deaf ears. These visits are his umbilical cord to the outside world, without them he explains: “I would be like living in a different galaxy. My captors want me to forget my name but I will not allow that to happen”. When led out of his cell, he is blindfolded and his hands are shackled and sometimes led into hitting sharp objects or pushed down the stairs. Dr. Geagea rarely complains to his family or lawyers because he does not want them to worry about him. Furthermore, he is not allowed to converse with anyone except during his brief visits and some of his lawyers noticed that he sometimes has difficulty with his speech and the movement of his jaw.

He is prohibited from discussing any political issues with his family or lawyers and he is often not allowed to converse with his wife with a language other than Arabic. When his lawyers drafted a proposed amnesty law, prison officials refused to allow him to discuss or review the proposal before submission.

Lebanese Authorities claim that his solitary imprisonment is for his own protection while no attempts were made to improve his cell conditions. He has lost a lot of weight and his family expressed a lot of concern about his health.

Since the year 2000, Dr. Geagea has not been on trial for any cases, however, threats and insinuations are often made that more charges will be filed against him and against the Lebanese Forces in the event that either raised any objections or exercised any pressure for his release.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said on the eighth anniversary of Geagea®s incarceration: “The detention conditions imposed on Samir Geagea had denied him the right to think… Human rights dictate that prisoners should be allowed to feel alive and should not be forbidden to think, to read and to follow up on what is happening in their own country… Former South African president Nelson Mandela was able to complete a doctorate in law while in prison and reach a high position in his country.”

When the issue of prison reforms was suggested and after a Human Rights delegation visited prisons in Lebanon and found them to be inhuman, the government formed a committee to look into prison conditions. The committee visited all prisons around the country but was denied a visit to the Ministry of Defense jail where Dr. Geagea is held. His lawyers® pleas to better his conditions fell on deaf ears and when attempts by Human Rights organizations were made to visit Dr. Geagea or to discuss his issues, the Lebanese Government showed no signs of cooperation and instead responded by accusing Christian Lebanese in the Diaspora of defaming the Lebanese Government and of Jeopardizing national unity.

Dr. Geagea fits perfectly the definition of a political prisoner.

He became the leader of the Lebanese Forces in 1986. When the war ended in 1990 and with the signing of the Taef agreement, sponsored by the Arab League, Dr. Geagea dismantled his military machine and transformed the Lebanese Forces into a political party in 1991. Between 1990 and 1992, he was offered twice a ministerial position, which he refused. Instead, Dr. Geagea demanded the complete implementation of the Taef agreement, which stipulated a redeployment of Syrian troops to the Bekaa Valley within two years as a prelude to a complete withdrawal from the Lebanese territories. When it became evident that there were no serious efforts to implement the redeployment, Dr. Geagea boycotted the parliamentary elections of 1992 in protest. In retaliation, the government initiated a crackdown on the supporters of the Lebanese Forces and began a campaign of systematic arrests and harassment. Between 1992 and 1994, Dr. Geagea remained in opposition to the government and increased his demands for Lebanon®s sovereignty and independence and voiced his objections to the unbalanced agreements signed between Lebanon and Syria against the interests of the first and in favor of the latter. In 1994, a bomb detonated in Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Zouk Mikhail resulting in many deaths and injuries. The Lebanese government immediately arrested Dr. Geagea and hundreds of the Lebanese Forces members and supporters and disbanded the party. Despite the coerced testimonies and the jailing and torturing of many Lebanese Forces members (documented by Amnesty International and the State Department), the court was unable to find Dr. Geagea guilty. The government refused to release him and instead accused him of war crimes despite the general amnesty provided by the Taef agreement. Interestingly, no further investigation was conducted into the church blast and the identity of the real perpetrators. Nonetheless, Dr. Geagea’s trials continued.

In November 5, 2001, Former President Amin Gemayel charged that the 1994 Zouk Mikhail explosion was a “set-up,” and that a security official has warned MPs that such an act could be seen again at any moment.

Dr. Geagea was charged with five crimes and received four death sentences commuted to life with hard labor. In his trial, Dr. Geagea accused investigators of torturing to “near death” some of his suspected accomplices, which led them to sign false confessions implicating him. These statements were later denied in court. “My only crime was that I believed the country was ruled by the law and this is why I am here,” said Dr. Geagea.

Key witnesses who testified against Dr. Geagea later recanted their testimonies claiming they were tortured and coerced into testifying and that they were made to sign declarations that they have not read, nonetheless, cases were not allowed to be reviewed claiming that the sentences were not subject to appeal. Furthermore, a book was published accusing late Minister Elie Hobeika of killing Dany Chamoun, leader of the National Liberal Party, one of the assassinations Dr. Geagea is accused of. Despite the fact that the author, who was Mr. Hobeika®s bodyguard, revealed that his chief has ordered the assassination of Mr. Chamoun and that he, himself, was asked to conduct surveillance and provide the times when the deceased is at home, the government responded by banning the book and filing charges against the author instead of reopening the case.

Mr. Stephen J. Stanton, an Australian barrister and now president of CedarWatch volunteered to defend Dr. Geagea and wrote several legal papers detailing the unfairness of the trials. Consequently, Mr. Stanton was ousted from the country and later was denied visa despite the fact that he is of Lebanese descent.

When asked by his lawyers in December 2000 if he would have done anything different had he had the chance to go back in time, Dr. Geagea said: “The decisions were limited back then. I had to choose one of three, the first was to leave the country, a decision I do not believe in, because, in my opinion, whoever exits from geography exits from history. The second was to resist militarily but by that time, I had a confirmed belief that it was time for Lebanon to emerge from the war and from bloodshed and to begin the road for recovery. The third choice was to walk the path of others who signed against their consciences and complied with the status quo. This was something I could not accept and so I took the known choice. If I were to turn back time and under the same circumstances, I would take the same decision in order to keep the hope for the future.”

Dr. Geagea charged that he is kidnapped and not legally imprisoned because, he says, prisoners have rights that are not afforded to him. “A prisoner has the right to discuss the evidence and legal matters with his lawyers, I can®t. A prisoner can send and receive mail, I can®t. A prisoner cannot be totally isolated from society while I am totally isolated from my country.”

Over the course of years, various politicians including parliament members repeatedly requested Amnesty for Dr. Geagea but the government ignored the requests and for over eight years conducted crackdowns on members and supporters of the Lebanese Forces. His lawyers, however, kept his case alive and relentlessly brought attention to his conditions. The following are some excerpts:

1] Mr. Edmond Rizk read the following statement at a press conference in November 18, 1996:

“Dr. Geagea’s situation under such circumstances is a violation of the Lebanese Constitution… Dr. Geagea has been suffering physical and moral punishment, which the law does not state nor did the appropriate authorities impose… His current situation contravenes all principles of punishment and the respects of criminal law and the ethical treatment of prisoners in addition to their recognized rights especially to be treated with dignity and fairness… Prisoners should not be humiliated by measures, which dehumanize them or harm irreparably their feelings and emotions… It should be noted that there is no civilized country in the world that would keep a prisoner in solitary confinement for more than 15 days or for 45 days in extreme cases… Solitary confinement should not be imposed even if for one day without judicial justification and a pursuant to a sentence imposed by a judicial officer. The confinement should be subject to monitoring by the appropriate authorities…

We are shocked that the desire to retaliate against Dr. Geagea and break the spirit of those who sympathize or are related to him through creed or stance or blood would reach the stage of completing the process of a gradual killing, a process which Dr. Geagea has been enduring with the patience of the faithful… Dr. Geagea has enough courage to refuse twice the lure of ministerial positions… He rejected both offers for reasons based on his principles and his evaluation of the national interest… Dr. Geagea had the rare courage to still have confidence in the judiciary and to trust the military honor in an era where nepotism and cronyism are the norms… Dr. Geagea will remain steadfast in this faith despite his trauma, sadness and the depth of his wounds… In turn we, his lawyers, his family and his friends will be waiting for every official to act according to his conscience…”

2] Geagea®s Lawyers issued a statement on the seventh anniversary of his incarceration, April 21, 2001 accusing the authorities of keeping Geagea “in a cell which is 6 square meters in size, located three floors underground and getting neither fresh air nor direct sunlight.”

The statement claimed Geagea is regularly searched, and that he is banned from both mixing with others and talking to his jailers. It also said he is not permitted any newspapers, magazines or political books.

The statement said prison authorities regularly keep Geagea “blindfolded and handcuffed” when transferring him within the jail. Moreover, it also noted “countless problems” encountered by his defense team when trying to visit him. Attorneys have allegedly complained about both the length of visits and the conditions under which they are permitted to speak to him.

3] French lawyer Wallerand De Saint-Just documented Geagea®s trial in a book published in 1997 and titled “Defending Samir Geagea-Political trials at the Judicial Council in Lebanon 1995-1996”. Mr. De Saint-Just was commissioned to Geagea®s defense.

De Saint-Just starts his book by talking about his surprise in regard to the French Media blackout of what had happened and has been happening in Lebanon prior to the bombing of El Zouk Church, in the aftermath and later. The answer came through a small news item published in the Newspaper “La Lettre De Magazine” on 2 December 1994. The item says: “The Syrian Security Departments have notified the French Foreign Affairs Department that “Syria would not tolerate any French Intervention in the trial of Samir Geagea, the former commander of the (Christian) Lebanese Forces, who is accused of organizing the assault on El Zouk Church. The Syrians also threatened to disclose the role of French Intelligence Agencies in Lebanon.”

He then narrates the events surrounding his arrival in Lebanon and meeting with Mrs. Sethrida Geagea and Samir Geagea®s defense lawyers. He also tells how he received the request to defend Geagea. Says De Saint-Just: “I did not hesitate for one moment” I took it as a great honor to be asked because being a lawyer allows the person to use his profession for the service of his principles… For Samir Geagea to ask me to defend him was for an exceptional grace…

The Rights of Defendants, Rights of Human Being, Rights of Defense… I could have written a special chapter for each of these matters… If we were able to appeal the verdict of the Court in Lebanon, I would have without doubt succeeded in quashing it… Even the Judicial Council should have had refused to proceed with the trial on the basis of how it was conducted… The violations were numerous and grave to a degree where the investigation should have been completely negated… In simple terms the trial remains the Lebanese Institutions® everlasting disgrace”.

The heroism of Samir Geagea in facing his long and terrible plight in a prison devoid of sunlight confirms to us that the people insist on survival as Geagea is doing and because of him.

4] Mr. Stephen J. Stanton, an Australian barrister and now president of CedarWatch wrote in April 2, 2000 a paper titled: “Shine like lights I the world.” The following are some excerpts:

“The pivotal position of resistance in this systematic campaign of aggression has been Dr Samir Geagea as leader of the Lebanese Forces. His incarceration and conviction on no less than six capital offences has been the telling point in this travesty of human misery and suffering, of which he is critically representative of the Lebanese race. The Syrian-backed hegemony that is representative of the current Lebanese regime and its predecessors, who purportedly boast that they are “the representatives of the people” is nothing more than a spectacle in political panoply.”

“It is to Dr Geagea’s credit that his perceived moral principles of conduct did not fail him nor desert him and despite the intense pressure he and his fellow Christians were being subjected to, he held his ground and withstood the temptation to enter into the regime, thereby ensuring for his own peace of mind, the sovereignty and independence of his nation and the freedom of his people. Very soon after Dr Geagea was requested to leave the country and go into voluntary exile, there was a bombing of a Maronite church, north of Beirut. Dr Geagea was arrested and charged with that bombing. Despite being acquitted of the bombing, the trial was notorious for the maverick-like manner in which he was tried and convicted of being complicit in the crime to the extent that former members of his Lebanese Forces were responsible and he was vicariously saddled with that crime.”

“His trials have been marked by gross breaches of the rule of law, both as to the rule against bias and natural justice which are hallmarks, or one would have thought were hallmarks, of the Lebanese judicial system.”

Dr. Geagea is a prisoner of conscience who stood tall in the face of his oppressors and refused to let them break his spirit despite the extreme measures they took against him. His crime is his loyalty to Lebanon. He kept his faith and held on to his dream of an independent and sovereign Lebanon. He refused to compromise his principles and rejected the allegations leveled against him. When offered to leave, he stood his grounds. When attempts were made to bribe him with official positions, he turned down the offers. When arrested, he believed that the judicial system would uphold the constitution and that his rights would be protected. Dr. Geagea awaits the day his ordeal ends and the day he is able embrace the sunlight again.

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