Graffiti artists Ali Fakhry and Khodr Salami were detained by Lebanese authorities for public vandalism and held for more than 20 hours before being released late Saturday night in Beirut.
“They charged us for vandalism of public properties but we were detained because of our art that supports the Syrian revolution,” Fakhry told Al Arabiya upon being released.
He also said he was held in a dirty cell for hours because of his graffiti work which said “the revolution will continue”.
About 50 people gathered for a sit-in in front of police stations where the two had been held. Protesters believed that the artists’ detention was a violation of freedom of expression and chanted slogans against the Lebanese authorities and held banners calling for their release.
Some even dared to defy the authorities by spray painting anti-regime slogans across the wall of the police station in the Sodeco region.
Activist Attallah al-Salim, who participated in the sit-in, described the incident as a flagrant act of aggression against freedom of speech. He also said he felt that the security regime was reestablishing itself in Lebanon, as evidenced by other recent acts against freedom of speech.
He added that the government should instead focus on corruption cases that concern citizens instead of participating in oppressive acts.
Journalist Wajih Ajouz, who also took part in the protests, condemned the detention of the two graffiti artists, calling it as an act of violence against freedom.
Graffiti artist Semaan Khawam, who has also been arrested several times for his artwork on walls that depicts the atrocities of the Lebanese civil war, said that he has been accused of defying the national regime ─ and is currently awaiting a verdict in his case, expected June 25.
“I once painted soldiers holding guns but their heads were detached from their bodies. [It was my way of] denouncing the military institutions that use harmful weapons without using their brains which are separate from their body,” he said.
Khawam believes that Lebanese civil society has the strong ability of defending freedom and human rights and can exert pressure on authorities to release activists.
The weight of civil society always tips in favor of freedom of speech, he said. “Without it, the entire society in Lebanon would be arrested.”
President of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights Nabil al-Halabi also denounced the incident calling it an attack on freedom of opinion and expression.
He said that attacks on journalists and media outlets have been registered on numerous occasions. NewTV cameraman Ali Shaaban died in front of army eyes and there was no official condemnation he said.
“Journalists, photographers and activists are beaten, intentionally harmed and prevented from doing their jobs,” he said. “This act of disgrace shouldn’t occur in Lebanon which is supposedly a paragon of liberty.”