Lebanese activist Kinda el Khatib has been charged in military court with collaborating with Israel, authorities announced Monday, following several days of official silence and widespread speculation following her arrest on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Khatib’s family and supporters maintained her innocence and staged a protest outside of the military court in Beirut demanding her release.
After Khatib’s arrest from her home in northern Lebanon’s Akkar region, her supporters speculated that she had been targeted because of her social media posts criticizing Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun.
Meanwhile opponents quickly began to circulate rumors that she had been arrested on charges of spying for Israel.
Competing hashtags were shared on social media proclaiming, “Free Kinda el Khatib,” and “Kinda el Khatib is an agent.”
A statement posted by the National News Agency Monday said that military tribunal Judge Fadi Akiki had charged Khatib with collaborating with the enemy, entering the occupied Palestinian territories, and dealing with Israeli spies and those working for Israel’s interests. Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war, and Lebanese citizens are legally prohibited from entering Israel or communicating with Israeli citizens.
Akiki referred Khatib’s case to Acting First Military Investigative Judge Fadi Sawan.
Khatib was arrested along with one of her brothers, who was later released. Reached by phone, another brother of Khatib’s referred requests for comment to his sister’s attorney, who could not be immediately reached.
Some observers pointed out the potential parallels between Khatib’s case and that of actor Ziad Itani, who was arrested in 2017 and charged with collaborating with Israel. It later came to light that Itani had been framed by the former head of the Internal Security Forces’ Anti-Cybercrime Bureau, who allegedly had a grudge against the actor because she believed he had played a role in her being fired, and he was released.
Human Rights Watch released a report in 2018 detailing allegations that Itani was tortured while he was being detained and interrogated.
Kinda al-Khatib's arrest comes in wake of spate of recent prosecutions targeting individuals peacefully voicing their criticism of the government on social media.
Comparisons being made to Ziad Itani – falsely accused of spying for Israel & forcibly disappeared and tortured.
— Aya Majzoub (@Aya_Majzoub) June 22, 2020
Itani himself wrote on Facebook that he had been reluctant to comment on Khatib’s case without having heard from the defendant herself. He cautioned against a rush to judgment, even among those who disagree with Khatib’s political views.
“As for the tweets that Kinda writes and the positions that she speaks about, perhaps I don’t agree with everything she says, but I wish that the political positions of any person would not make us abandon him and drop the presumption of innocence, and I wish that what we would not wish for any person to be an agent of the occupation, even our biggest opponents in politics,” he wrote. “I hope that Kinda is innocent, and that there is not among us one single agent or one oppressed person.”
Aya Mazjoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Lebanon office, said the group had been trying to follow up on Khatib’s case but that so far, no one had been able to communicate with her. Regardless of the facts of the case, Mazjoub said HRW was opposed to military courts being used to try civilians, noting that an investigation by the group had found “many due process and international law violations inherent in trying civilians before military courts in Lebanon.”
These included “incommunicado detention, interrogations without a lawyer, ill-treatment and torture, the use of confessions extracted under torture, decisions issued without an explanation, seemingly arbitrary sentences, and a limited ability to appeal,” Mazjoub said, adding, “State authorities have used the military court’s jurisdiction over civilians to intimidate or retaliate for political reasons and to stamp out dissent.”