Lebanon's inmates go on hunger strike to demand general amnesty

The Daily Star

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Extremist cleric Sheikh Khaled Hoblos Saturday declared a mass hunger strike at Lebanese prisons to press for general amnesty to be granted to all prisoners. "We, the inmates in Lebanese prisons, announce a hunger strike to demand a general amnesty," Hoblos said in an audio clip carried out by local TV channel LBCI. Hoblos, in a 4.27 minute audio clip, urged prison administrations not to force inmates to back down on their hunger strike, deeming it "a right guaranteed by the law." The extremist cleric, who was arrested in 2015 during a police operation in the northern city of Tripoli, called on the families of the inmates in north, south, east Lebanon and the capital Beirut to "intensify their acts in parallel with the strike." The notorious Islamist militant Osama Mansour, who was wanted on terrorism charges, was killed in the operation in which Hoblos was apprehended. Hoblos also urged politicians to work "on granting prisoners an amnesty away from any political" motives. He called on Prime Minister Saad Hariri to prioritize Lebanon's "national interest." "To all inmates ... we don't want chaos, riots or [acts] that breach the security of prisons. Cooperate and unite to achieve a better tomorrow," Hoblos said, addressing prisoners. He also expressed hope that they would be granted general amnesty in time for the Eid al-Fitr, which is the celebration of the end of the month of Ramadan for Muslims. Arab Tawhid Party leader Wiam Wahhab openly expressed support of a general amnesty in a Tweet Saturday. "Let us show solidarity with the prisoners ... A general amnesty law has become an urgent necessity," he said. A general amnesty request must be put forward by the interior and justice ministers, and would also require approval by President Michel Aoun. Protests are routinely held by the families of Islamist inmates throughout Lebanon. From the Bekaa Valley to Sidon and all the way to Tripoli, Lebanese have been demonstrating for a general amnesty law that would forgive hundreds of thousands of crimes. A number of prisoners have been held without a trial. "This is a message to everyone who has a conscience," Hoblos said in his opening statement. "It's the right of all prisoners to be granted freedom .... Prisons became crowded with all kinds [of people] who we never thought would be imprisoned." He criticized security forces for arresting children, women and elderly "on the pretext of pre-emptive security." "Thousands of arrest warrants have been issued against people in deprived areas, who were forced due to [hard] conditions and lack of official care to use drugs or deal with it." "It's the right of those who live in Lebanon to get the chance similar to the warlords." Hoblos blamed the political "division" for the security incidents that occurred in Lebanon. "Just as the parties that engaged in [Lebanon's 15-year Civil War] had the right to turn a new page and reach reconciliation which paved the way for them to assume control and power ... don't the prisoners, who were betrayed and were the victims of political and security rifts, have the right to be granted [the chance] to open a new page?" he asked. Roads Blocked Simultaneously with the hunger strike the families of inmates in the northern district of Akkar blocked the roads. A security source told The Daily Star that a number of relatives blocked the Abu Ali Roundabout to press for a general amnesty

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