Beirut: Lebanon’s Military Tribunal has sentenced Fadel Shaker, a sympathiser of the Salafist Shaikh Ahmad Al Assir, to a five-year prison term. The verdict was given in absentia.
Shaker expressed support for the cleric Ahmad Al Assir when the latter clashed with the Lebanese Army in Sidon in June 2013.
The clashes led to the death of 18 soldiers and 40 militants, although it remains unclear whether Shaker was involved in the fighting. The cleric was arrested in August 2015 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport as he attempted to flee the country in disguise.
Shaker broke ties with Al Assir after the 2013 clashes in Abra (a suburb of the southern city of Sidon), claiming that the preacher had been manipulated.
According to press reports, the latest verdict handed down by the Tribunal mentioned new charges brought against the pop star for insulting the army and an unnamed Arab country, in addition to inciting sedition.
The new charges were apparently filed following his interview with MTV early in February 2016 when he denied that he waged war against the Lebanese army or killed anyone.
On television, Shaker declared that he “loved and appreciated the army, which belonged to all the people of Lebanon”, though he regretted the video that showed him walking among the corpses of several fallen soldiers.
Shaker refuses to hand himself in and is holed up in the Ain Al Hilwe Palestinian refugee camp, outside the reach of Lebanese authorities.
The Military Tribunal sentenced him anyway, and ordered that he pay 500,000 Lebanese pounds (Dh1,196) in fines, as well as be stripped of his civil rights.
On Friday, he responded to various allegations made by the Military Tribunal. “The brotherly state that I am being convicted [of insulting] is the very same country whose president and intelligence head worked to blow Lebanon up,” he said in reference to Syria and former minister Michel Samaha. The latter was arrested in 2012 for smuggling explosives from Damascus to Beirut to carry out a series of bombings and assassinations. Samaha was sentenced to four-and-half years in jail in May 2015, thus less than the Shaker verdict by 6 months, though the Cassation Court nullified that verdict in June 2015 and ordered a retrial. He was released on a minuscule bail of $100,000 in January 2016.
That decision, along with the inability of the Cabinet to move the case forward by transferring the case to the impartial Judicial Council, prompted the Minister of Justice, Ashraf Rifi, to resign.
On Saturday, leading Lebanese newspapers that reported the latest developments, raised serious doubts about the Military Tribunal’s verdicts, insisting that judges were engaged in political trials, not necessarily applying the law in an impartial way.