Diana Moukalled: Hezbollah fears its captives/UAE tries ‘Hezbollah’, ‘Qaeda’ cell members


UAE tries ‘Hezbollah’, ‘Qaeda’ cell members
AFP, Abu Dhabi Tuesday, 9 February 2016/Separate trials have opened in the United Arab Emirates of three men accused of links to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement and 23 others for ties to Al-Qaeda, newspapers reported Tuesday. The three Lebanese men charged with “forming and managing a group linked to Hezbollah without obtaining a permit” appeared Monday before Abu Dhabi’s state security, Emarat al-Youm newspaper said. Al-Ittihad daily said one of the men is a Canadian citizen and that representatives of his country’s consulate attended the hearing, during which all three defendants denied the charges. The trial was adjourned to February 15. In March last year, the Lebanese government said 70 Lebanese, mostly Shiites, were facing deportation from the United Arab Emirates. In 2009, dozens of Lebanese Shiites who had lived in the UAE for years were expelled on suspicion of links to Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, the arch rival of Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies. In the other trial, 23 mostly Yemeni defendants have been charged with forming a cell linked to al-Qaeda as well as forgery, the newspapers said. Two of the defendants remain at large, according to the reports. That trial was adjourned to March 7. Authorities have enacted tougher anti-terror legislation, including harsher jail terms and have introduced the death penalty for crimes linked to religious hatred and extremist groups. The UAE stepped up security measures since the wave uprising protests swept the region in 2011. In July, the UAE executed an Emirati woman for the extremist-inspired 2014 murder of an American school teacher in an Abu Dhabi shopping mall.


Hezbollah fears its captives
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya/February 09/16
Last week, Hezbollah pressured local Lebanese television station MTV to cut footage of its interviews with three Hezbollah fighters who are held captive by al-Nusra Front. It’s therefore useful to recall similar incidents which took place over the past few years. In 2004, press ethics regarding captives did not prevent Hezbollah from allowing its media to interview Israeli officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, whom the party held captive at the time and who was later released as part of a prisoner swap. At the time, Hezbollah made an effort to show that it treated its captives – who it says are affiliated with the “Israeli enemy” – well. A few days ago, al-Nusra Front did the same exact thing when it allowed Lebanese reporter Carol Maalouf to interview the Hezbollah members it holds captive. This interview included efforts to imply that al-Nusra is treating the hostages well. In the first case, Hezbollah thought allowing its Israeli captive to be interviewed as a propaganda strategy was justified. In al-Nusra’s case, Hezbollah was confused and it pressured the station to not broadcast the interview with the three captives.
Backing down
MTV backed down following the intimidation and only aired a few minutes of the pre-agreed upon footage. It doesn’t matter whether the captive is a fighter or a civilian, as balance between freedom of speech and hostages’ rights and protecting them is essential. However, these are not the only incidents of this kind. In the past few years, we’ve witnessed many interviews carried out with captives – whether military servicemen or civilians – in Syria and Lebanon. Media outlets competed over a scoop without caring much about ethics, which are essential when it comes to such interviews. Reporters and media figures thus played the role of the investigator and the political and moral reference. For example, interviews with many captives were held upon Hezbollah’s support and approval. I am referring to those held with the Lebanese pilgrims who were abducted in the Syrian town of Azaz by a Syrian opposition faction.
At the time, some Lebanese people responded to this abduction by kidnapping Turks, Syrians and even other Lebanese citizens. Members of the Lebanese al-Moqdad family, which is close to Hezbollah and which seemed to be in control of security and media coverage, allowed several reporters and journalists to meet their captives and interview them in a very humiliating manner. Back then, Hezbollah did not prevent any station from broadcasting these interviews. On the contrary, it seemed to approve these abductions and these interviews as well as the marginalization of legal principles and human rights.
Propaganda purposes
The professional problem related to interviewing prisoners did not push Hezbollah to discuss the rights of captives or to realize its sin of exploiting its cause for propaganda. The moral and ethical content when it comes to media outlets interviewing war prisoners is problematic. However, the major standard here is the humanitarian interest of the captive themselves and the extent of confusion which can be caused by information revealed at a time when the abductor uses these interviews for propaganda purposes. It doesn’t matter whether the captive is a fighter or a civilian, as balance between freedom of speech and hostages’ rights and protecting them is essential. This is the general rule. However all the aforementioned cases did not respect this principle. Hezbollah was the first to violate these ethical standards. The group’s fury over that MTV interview is not because it wants to protect its kidnapped members or defend their rights and interests. The problem is that this interview, regardless of its content and whether the captives’ statements are sincere or being made under pressure, enables Hezbollah to make its agenda tolerated on political, security and moral fronts. Ever since the party began fighting in Syria alongside the Assad regime, it has imposed a media blackout on its involvement in the war there. Hezbollah wants to keep this status quo, and it even wants all the funerals for the fighters who died in Syria to remain quiet. Hezbollah wants to continue preventing the media from talking to these fighters’ families and wants the shattered homes to settle with grieving and lamenting their loss without much fuss in the media. Morally speaking, one cannot overcome the circumstances of the interview with Hezbollah’s captives or settle with its content; however, Hezbollah’s panic and pressure on the television station are what actually require questioning and shedding light on.